Ask Not What Your Buyer Can Do for You

Remixing your sentences could help close the deal.

By Meghan Pryce, published July 8, 2015 - last reviewed on June 10, 2016

 Syda Productions / Shutterstock

If you’re trying to get something from someone, words matter. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that a simple verbal twist can help frame requests more effectively. 

In a series of experiments, participants engaged in hypothetical bartering over collectible cards, electronic appliances, and other items. Researchers found that a participant’s proposal was more effective, on average, if it led with what his or her barter partner would receive. A smart salesperson, the results indicate, says “I can give you the car for $7,000” rather than “I want $7,000 for the car.”

Emphasizing what’s in it for a client or negotiating partner encourages compromise, according to study co-author Roman Trötschel, a psychologist at Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany. The approach might also help an employee negotiating her salary or a spouse dividing up chores—“I’ll do the dishes if you clean the bathtub.”  Says Trötschel: “‘I will give you’ or ‘You can get’ is better than ‘I want you to give me,’ ‘I demand,’ or ‘I ask that you give.’”