32 Influencing Words

A simpler approach to changing people’s attitudes and behavior.

Posted May 06, 2019

World Sufi Center, Public Domain
Source: World Sufi Center, Public Domain

Much has been written on the art of influence, but many of my clients find such advice too difficult to implement. They’ve had more success in trying to influence someone’s behavior or attitude by, where appropriate, using the following 32 words.

Questions tend to be more potent change agents than are statements. So for each word, I provide a question that uses it. Because this is Psychology Today, most of the questions are those that a helping professional might ask clients, or that a person might ask a friend. In each sentence, I italicize a word when it's one of the 32.

Also, beware of these words being used to manipulate you, for example, in advertising, especially political ads and commercials.

You. What do you want? What do you really want?

Imagine. Imagine you didn’t care what anyone thought, what would you do?

Helpful. What can I do to be helpful?

Care. For now, do you want to take better care of yourself, or do you have other priorities?

Smart. I’m wondering if this approach might be smart. What do you think?

Wise.  What would the wise person within you do in this situation?

Special.  We all want to feel special. Is there anything you’re doing to be special that you might want to do more of?

Peace of mind. I’m wondering whether, if you cut back your spending, you’d have more peace of mind. What do you think?

Control. With our complicated lives, it’s easy to feel out of control. Might there be some baby step that would help you regain a bit of control?

Easier. I’ve found this approach to be easier. Might that work for you?

Love. At this point, how much do you care about being loved? By whom?

Unearth. Do you think it’s worth the effort to unearth a better apartment?

Inspiration. I find inspiration in biographies of people like Albert Ellis, Anne Frank, and Jonas Salk. What inspires you?

Hope. Everyone needs hope. I know someone with end-stage cancer whose hope lies in teaching life lessons to his children and grandchildren that come to visit him. Anything might give you hope?

New. Is there anything new you’re thinking about these days?

Protect. These days, what do you most care to protect yourself against?

Health. Our physical and mental health can feel fragile. Is there any aspect of your health that you’re thinking about?

Safe. Where and when do you feel safe, really comfortable?

Forward. What’s a baby step you could take to move forward?

Change. There was a time I finally felt ready to change, for a fresh start. How about you?

Proven.  Few things are ever proven but the preponderance of the evidence seems to support your trying to exercise regularly and to stay busy before trying an antidepressant. What do you think?

Stand.  Is there anything you deeply believe in that you find hard to take a stand about?

Risky.  That treatment is so experimental and its risk/reward ratio seems poor, but what do you think?

Free.  As we’re starting this group practice and thinking about our start-up expenses, we should always think, “How can we get this for free?” Maybe a church school has empty classrooms they might let us have for free or at least at very low cost. What do you think?”

Now. If we do it now, we can avoid the guilt of procrastination. I know it’s a pain but what do you think?

Choices. It would seem you have three choices: A, B, and C. Which do you think is wisest?

Because.  I put those little plants I grow from seed on the curb in front of my house, not just because it’s a nice thing to do but because I want to be perceived by my neighbors as a good guy. Do you want to try doing that?

We, join, together, connect, all  We should all connect, join together. Together we can make a bigger difference. Right? (Those terms represent what may be the core concept in today’s zeitgeist: less competition, individual initiative, more collaboration, teamwork.)

Less potent influencing words

Many of the following words were and sometimes still are considered to be good influencing words, but they may be fading in utility.

As mentioned, the words "I," “win,” “winner,” “compete” and even “success” now conflict with America’s zeitgeist: less hierarchy, less competitive, more collaborative, inclusive, redistributive to society’s Have-Nots.

The following words are, especially among educated people, falling out of favor because they’re often seen as hype: "instant", "quick," "amazing," "awesome," "fantastic," "secret."

Alas, no matter how often and how appropriately we use the 32 words above, there are no “instant secrets that are quick, awesome, and downright fantastic and amazing!” But I’m hoping you’ll find them helpful.