A magician taps his hat to reveal the magic within

Just imagine you had the ability to connect with those you wish to impress. That you could convince them to be open-minded enough to hear you out. How would you feel if you always knew exactly what to say?

Just imagine… Open-minded… How would you feel if…?

These are just a few of the 22 phrases proposed as “magic words” in Phil M. Jones’s Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact.

The cover of the book Exactly What To Say.

In business and in life, communicating effectively can sometimes seem like a talent that lies just out of reach. Have you ever listened to a gifted speaker and wished you could command a room as smoothly?

Jones’s little book is designed to help you do just that. As he says in the opening pages, “The worst time to think about the thing you are going to say is in the moment you are saying it. This book prepares you for nearly every known eventuality and provides you with a fair advantage in almost every conversation.”

The trick, according to Jones, is retraining your subconscious to resist go-to phrases that trigger your listener’s subconscious to shut down—even things as simple as “Yeah, but…”

In less than 200 pages (and chapters only three or four pages long), Jones shares his magic in a simple pattern, a quick read that’s easy to reference:

1. The “magic words” in question
2. The psychology of why a particular phrase works
3. Examples of how to use the words
4. A brief wrap-up with final thoughts

The Magic of a Good Time

While much of the book seems geared toward salespeople, many of these pieces of wisdom can be translated to exchanges within the office or home.

Take this one: “When would be a good time to…?”

Most people can close their eyes and hear this exchange: a salesman calls in the evening; we brush him off, saying we don’t have time to talk; he comes back with “When would be a good time to call again?” Even if we go on to say we’re simply not interested, this phrase triggers something in our subconscious, something that makes us want to answer the question. As Jones puts it:

“By using the preface, ‘When would be a good time to…?’ you prompt the other person to subconsciously assume there will be a good time and that no is not an option.”

Such psychology is by no means limited to the sales realm of business, however, which Jones proves with examples:

・ “When would be a good time for you to take a proper look at this?”
Imagine using this with a busy superior who’s hopping from meeting to meeting and has no time to look at your proposal.

・ “When would be a good time to get started?”
Most people understand the frustration of getting a plan or project off the ground when everyone else on the team is busy.

Magic Words in Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is said to be one of the three skills that will keep humans relevant in the age of Industry 4.0. It includes a variety of tools, such as the pyramid structure, to help us solve problems effectively.

But once we’ve come up with a solution to a problem, we need to communicate that solution to people who are not necessarily using critical thinking tools. Brian Cathcart, who teaches the Critical Thinking course at GLOBIS University, says that figuring out what you want to say is only the first step.

“Content and delivery are separate. Critical thinking teaches you how to logically construct and revise your message for a particular audience, but it may not take into account psychological and emotional factors. Humans make many decisions that are not rational. Many of our decisions are made by emotion. Therefore, when you deliver a message, consider the emotional element.”

This is where methods like Jones’s can lend a strategic advantage, mixing the psychology of magic words with the logic of critical thinking.

Multilingual, Multicultural Magic?

The one thing perhaps lacking in Exactly What to Say is a broader multicultural, even multilingual analysis of the phrases presented. English may be a global language, but its development varies from region to region. While “Yeah, but…” may be a universal trigger, longer phrases may not carry so much weight. Communicating with non-native speakers (or even in other languages) may present different obstacles. It would be interesting to see how these magic words translate, so to speak.

All in all, Exactly What to Say is well worth a read for anyone looking to improve their communication skills. Simply reading through this quick volume can help you become more aware of what you’re saying, the psychology of word choice, and the role of the subconscious in communication.