news

Add these 4 words to your vocabulary right now, experts say: They can make you more influential at work

Courtesy of Jonah Berger

Getting your colleagues and bosses to listen to your ideas at work doesn't have to be hard — if you know what to say.

You can gain influence at work by incorporating a handful of specific words into your vocabulary, according to a variety of experts and research. Such persuasive skills can help your projects gain support or even get you a promotion, according to Stanford University lecturer and communication expert Matt Abrahams.

"Careers are very different now ... things are more remote and virtual, so you're not around people as much," Abrahams told CNBC Make It in March. "You really are forging your own way and need to get others to at least support, if not follow, the things you're trying to do."

Here are four simple words anyone can use to gain more sway at work:

1. Because

Whether you're asking to cut someone in line or explaining your reasoning in a presentation, the word "because" can make you more convincing, Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger told Make It in February.

Berger referenced a nearly 50-year-old Harvard University study, wherein researchers sat in a university library and waited for someone to use the copy machine. Then, they'd ask to cut in front of the unknowing participant with three different questions:

  • May I use the Xerox machine?
  • May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?
  • May I use the Xerox machine because I'm in a rush?

Both requests using "because" had a 50% higher success rate: More people allowed the researchers to cut in front of them, the study found.

Even the second phrasing — which basically meant, "Can I do the exact same thing you're doing, but first?" — worked because it showed more consideration to the person already making copies, the researchers suggested.

2. Recommend

Replacing "like" with "recommend" carries a similar kind of power, Berger wrote in his book, "Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way," which published last year.

The simple word swap makes people 32% more likely to take your suggestions, according to a 2017 study that Berger co-authored.

"Like suggests a personal preference, while recommend suggests others will enjoy it as well," Berger tells Make It. "And the fact that endorsers are willing to recommend suggests that they like [it]."

DON'T MISS: The ultimate guide to becoming a master communicator and public speaker

Similarly, present tense is more persuasive than past tense, because it generalizes your experience and makes you sound more confident, he found.

"If you're willing to say not just that France was fun, but it is fun; not just that this book had a great plot, but it has a great plot; when you're generalizing beyond the past, it suggests you're more confident or certain about what you're saying," Berger told the "Knowledge at Wharton" podcast last year.

3. Help

Knowing how and when to ask for help can make you more influential, according to Henna Pryor, a Philadelphia-based workplace performance coach.

Do your research and try to come to conclusions on your own. Then, when in doubt, admitting you need extra guidance could save you time, money and your reputation, Pryor told Make It last month.

Simply asking can help you build trust and relationships: Other people usually like to feel needed, and maybe will come to you for a future favor.

Having those kinds of connections at work are particularly helpful when you need to pressure-test ideas, said Pryor: You can rehearse with them before pitching an idea, asking your boss for a raise or even trying to pronounce a co-worker's name.

4. Us and we

Using inclusive language like "us" and "we," instead of "you" and "me," can make people more receptive to your arguments, according to psychology research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business published last year.

When researchers asked participants to receive hypothetical feedback about a group project that went awry, the participants preferred hearing, "We should have made more progress" versus "You should have made more progress."

"Unlike 'you' pronouns, which signal a focus on the recipient and can feel aggressive, 'we' pronouns are used to communicate a shared perspective or experience," the study's authors wrote. "Consequently, 'we' pronouns can ... signal closeness and inclusivity."

Want to be a successful, confident communicator? Take CNBC's new online course Become an Effective Communicator: Master Public Speaking. We'll teach you how to speak clearly and confidently, calm your nerves, what to say and not say, and body language techniques to make a great first impression. Sign up today and use code EARLYBIRD for an introductory discount of 30% off through July 10, 2024.

Plus, sign up for CNBC Make It's newsletter to get tips and tricks for success at work, with money and in life.

Copyright CNBC
Contact Us