4 word choices to increase your impact

by Mabel Weng

We use words every day to persuade, communicate, and form connections. By understanding the science behind language, we can tweak our word choices to influence people’s perceptions and attitudes. That’s why I frequently tune in to podcasts like Think Fast, Talk Smart for new insights.

On a recent episode, Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way, shared how certain “magic words” can shape the impact we have. 

Here are 4 ideas that stood out: 

1) Motivate others by reframing actions as identities. 

We tend to engage in behaviors that allow us to view ourselves positively, such as being smart, competent, or helpful. Therefore, reframing actions into identities can motivate people to do something. For example, asking someone to be a supporter instead of asking them for support. This is also helpful when we describe the work we do or the actions we take. 

Example: If you say “I write”, you might be perceived as someone who writes occasionally. In contrast, if you say “I am a writer”, that becomes part of your identity, something you do often and professionally.  


2) Replace the past with the present[s] to communicate confidence

When asked to share our opinion, we have a tendency to use the past tense rather than the present, which makes us less persuasive. Past tense often suggests something was true for someone at a particular point in time. When we use the present tense to make an assertion, people perceive us as confident or certain in what we’re saying and are more likely to be persuaded as a result. 

Example: “The first photo was better, we should use that one.” vs “The first photo is better, we should use that one.”


3) Capture attention with just one word 

The use of second-person pronouns, such as “you”, can help capture readers’ attention. By acting as a sort of stop sign, the word “you” prompts readers to pause and take notice, implying that what follows is personally relevant to them. This makes them more likely to pay attention and engage with the content.

Example: “Make a difference.” vs “You can make a difference.”


4) Ask questions to improve the way we’re perceived

Most of us think we have valuable advice to offer, and have a positive view of our opinions. So when someone seeks our advice, we often perceive them as intelligent for valuing our input. The next time you’re worried about asking for someone’s input, remember that asking for others’ guidance may actually enhance your image.

Follow-up questions are another effective way to shape how others perceive us. They show that we are paying attention and interested in learning more, which can make us more appealing. 

Being polite is easy, but it doesn’t really signal that you’re paying attention. But if you took the time to listen to what someone said and follow up with what they said, it showed you paid attention and you care.” – Jonah Berger


We can all use language to be more effective. Which of these insights did you find most helpful?