Why are some people adept at interviewing for a job or talking their way out of conflict? Psychologists who have worked with companies to design their advertising campaigns and slogans, and political advisers crafting the brilliant speeches of politicians know the answer: The way that words are used to influence, persuade and motivate. And brain science tells us much now about the connection between thinking and language.

Dr. Frank Luntz, author of the book Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear, and named the "hottest pollster in America," by the Boston Globe, gives us valuable insights on how subtle shifts in word usage can mean the difference between success and failure. You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand and attach meaning through individual perceptions based on a large number of filters, including values, experiences and personality. As NLP coaches know, the meaning of communication is what comes back at you, not what you send out. It's not enough to be correct, reasonable or even intelligent.

Luntz argues that the key to successsful communication is to put yourself in your audiences' shoes. Luntz outlines the 10 rules of effective language that all managers should master:

  • Rule 1: Simplicity: Use small words and avoid ones that people have to use a dictionary to understand.
  • Rule 2: Brevity: Use short sentences.
  • Rule 3: Credibility is as important as philosophy. In other words, people have to believe it to buy in. If your words lack sincerity, they will lack impact.
  • Rule 4: Consistency. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
  • Rule 5: Novelty. Offer something new to say, or say something old in a new way. 
  • Rule 6: Sound and texture matter. How the words sound and fit together has as much impact as the content of anything you say. Shakespeare knew that.
  • Rule 7: Speak Aspirationally. Messages need to say what people want to hear, and trigger an emotional remembrance that touches the heart and the soul, not just the head.
  • Rule 8: Visualize. Paint a vivid picture. Even better, for those people who are auditory and kinesthetic, let them hear sounds and feel things.
  • Rule 9: Ask A Question. A statement put in the form of a rhetorical question has more impact than just making a statement. Even better, answer your own question.
  • Rule 10: Provide Context and Explain Relevance. This is the "why" of your message, before you tell them the "therefore," and "so that," part of your message, or solution.

Luntz says that the corporate world is plagued by shoddy language. Employees and customers are inundated with jargon and "ad-speak" and professionals' job jargon. Skillful and successful leaders in organizations are masters of comnunication and work at their art. Words that we remember are not the common words of average people.They are pollitical, cultural and corporate words that have been artistically and thoughtfully crafted for a purpose, with great results.

Luntz identifies 5 great myths and realities about language and people in the U.S.:

  • Myth 1: Americans are educated. False. Under 50% of Americans graduated from college and university. Only 25% of adults over the age of 25 in the U.S. are college educated. In contrast, more than 60% of Canadians have a post-secondary education.
  • Myth 2: Americans read. False. According to poll data, in 2005, only 25% of Americans read magazines, and only 45% read newspapers.
  • Myth 3: American women all respond to messages like women. False. Men and women have similar views with the exception of issues such as faith in government.
  • Myth 4: Americans divide neatly and accurately into urban, suburban and rural populations. False. Over the past 5 years, a new demographic group--affluent homeowners with growing bank accounts, and growing families are moving away from both urban and suburban areas into rural areas.
  • Myth 5: American consumers respond well to patriotic messages. Not entirely true. There's a difference between American patriotism and American pride, with a very negative connotation of arrogance and aggression associated with patriotism, whereas pride has a universal appeal, as it does in other countries.

Luntz identifies what he calls dynamic, impactful words for the 21st century: imagine, lifestyle, hassle-free, accountability, results, innovation, renew, revitalize, rejuvenate, restore, rekindle, reinvent,efficient, the right to..,patient-centered, investment, casual elegance, independent, peace of mind, certified, All-American, prosperity, spirituality, financial security, balance approach, anda culture of... He does stress that is not the use of the words alone, but the style in which they are used, will make a difference.

The real problem in our common language today, Luntz argues, is that it has been so coarsened and words once considered vulgar or obscene are now commonplace, with their original meaning forgotten. The other problem is that people believe that they own what they say and manner in which they say it, not realizing once it leaves their mouths it doesn't disappear but affects other people for a long time. Finally, so much of our language today is negative, harsh and aggressive, and all too often people use words that divide, demean and humiliate others.

Leaders in organizations should recognize that the content and tone of their language can have great effect on people, and choose their words wisely to inspire, influence, and persuade for the right reasons.

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