Years of experience as a magician taught Tim David that real magic came from the words we use to communicate with one another. Words have to power to inspire. Words have the power to influence. Words have the power to motivate. But how can we use them correctly to get the results we want? David explores seven magic words and the psychology behind how what we say affects a person’s performance in both the business world and the personal world. Through scientific research and personal stories, David lays out the blueprint for building relationships and communicating effectively. Learn the secrets of what to say as well as what not to say so your words have the magical power to inspire, influence, and motivate.
Chapter 1: The Importance of Words and Human Connection
What is the biggest problem in the world? Not getting people to do stuff. Parents struggle to get their children to do their homework, teachers struggle to get their students to focus, managers struggle to get their employees to perform, and doctors even struggle to get their patients to follow their treatment plans. If only we could get the people to do the things we want, the world would be a much better place, right?
The standard solution to motivation is typically begging, bribing, and reasoning to death. When a child won’t eat his vegetables, we bribe them with that tasty cookie after dinner. And when that doesn’t work, we start nagging, manipulating, or even deceiving to get results. These tactics rarely work, and people largely hate being told what to do. If you try to motivate people directly, you will fail. Think of the person you tried so hard to change, but it just never worked. That’s because you used the wrong approach. Instead, you should work on motivating their actions, and that’s how magic words can be incredibly useful.
When you think of magic words, you might think of words like “abracadabra” or “shazaam” or “hocus pocus.” And while Tim David spent much of his career as a magician, he now preaches the powerful magic of words. Seven simple words can help motivate those around you to perform how you want them to. However, as the best-selling author, Daniel Pink says, “Motivation is not something we do to other people.” The old phrase goes “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Well, as Tim David says, you might not be able to make him drink, but you can make him thirsty.
The human brain is complex, but the vast majority of them are already thirsty. They crave direction and influence, you simply need to find a person’s motivation and tap into it. When you successfully do that, you will no longer have a problem of finding motivation but directing it.
The first step for getting results is establishing a little thing called human connection. Human connection is the soil where “getting people to do stuff” grows. By establishing a connection, you can make several mistakes and still get results; however, if you fail to do this, it’s as simple as “game over.” Think about it, when teachers truly connect with their students, learning happens. When doctors connect with their patients, healing happens. And when companies are truly connected with their customers, business happens.
In 1967, psychologist Albert Mehrabian wrote that words constitute about seven percent of what we communicate, while the rest is simply body language and tone of voice. So while words only make a small percentage of communication, that small influence can greatly help you express yourself and communicate more clearly. Words are a powerful tool, but when wielded by an unskilled craftsman, the results can be hurtful or even damaging.
Chapter 2: The Magic of “Yes”
Think about one of the biggest moments of your life. Getting down on one knee holding something seemingly small and expecting something big. Asking one simple question, “Will you marry me?” The question followed by silence, shock, and crying. The moments leading up to the answer feel like the longest ten seconds of your life. But finally, you hear that perfect “yes!” That simple word can be the most magical word you have ever heard.
The powerful word “yes” can have so much meaning and is one of the most important words in any marriage. In fact, Dr. John Gottman has studied the influence of words in marriage, and after studying thousands of couples, Dr. Gottman has the uncanny ability to predict divorce by a single conversation. By looking for the six signs of divorce, Gottman has a 91 percent accuracy rate for predicting the success or failure of a relationship. Those signs? They are the exact opposite of what “yes” represents. The most powerful signal is that of contempt. When a partner expresses contempt or disapproval in the other, they are essentially saying “I am morally superior to you.” Contempt mixed with criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness, and failed repair attempts create a toxic combination that leads to divorce 91 percent of the time. So while “no” has the power to end relationships, “yes” has the power to bring them together.
“Yes” bridges conflict, fosters admiration, creates shared experiences, and offers acceptance. Within a marriage, “yes” is a magic word with impressive power. Without it, marriages fail. With it, marriages prosper. But can the magic word influence other relationships in our lives? Simply put, yes!
As humans, we fear rejection. That feeling of connection and being in a group is key to our survival. This is why public speaking is one of the number one fears of people, it exacerbates our fear of rejection as we wonder if people will accept us or not. However, when we hear “yes,” we feel connected and appreciated. “Yes” is the ultimate magic word. The key to hearing this magic word is by restructuring the questions you ask. For instance, when something goes wrong in the office, instead of simply saying, “Please fix this for me,” you should ask, “Can we fix this?” If you can get someone to say yes, you’ll find they are more likely to actually do it.
Research suggests that getting a person to say “yes” two or three times before you get to the actual request increases the likelihood of success. For instance, one study focused on a group of salespeople who tried to get potential customers to say “yes” at least three times before getting to the sale. Those that succeeded increased their success rate from 18 to 32 percent. This is why small talk is so important. The purpose is essentially to find some common ground and get a prospect, potential partner, or even an employer to find themselves agreeing with you more and more. Yeses build trust. Therefore, we should work on changing our perspective on the value of the often-dreaded small talk.
Additionally, you should avoid negative words as well. Any word that has a negative connotation can quickly switch the conversation from positivity to feelings of fear or rejection. Therefore, you should focus on keeping the conversation in “yes” mode. This simply means to avoid any negative words. For example, if an airline captain tells passengers “not to be concerned,” passengers will quickly do the opposite simply because the captain used the word “not.” Similarly when a doctor says “We will want to run a few tests. No need to worry.” What do you do instead? You immediately worry. All negative words, even if used to negate negativity, still produce negative feelings.
Chapter 3: The Magic of “But”
Another small, simple word with great power and influence. Think about the time you felt rejected, either by a partner or a future employer. You may have heard something along the lines of “You’re a great a person, but you just aren’t the right fit.” Which part of the conversation will you remember? You certainly won’t remember the part that told you how great of a person you are, instead, your brain focuses on everything that came after the word “but.” By using the word “but” you decrease the impact of anything that was said prior. This effect is called the “But Eraser.”
In other words, whatever comes before “but” is completely ignored, especially if it’s the exact opposite statement of what came before. On the other hand, the “But Enhancer” is the theory that everything that comes after “but” is what people focus on. Therefore, you should start communicating with the information that you want the person to forget, then use a “but” and end with the information that you want them to remember. For instance, when trying to sell life insurance, a salesperson could say “I know you can’t buy life insurance right now, but I want you to think about the benefits of this to your family.” The potential buyer will forget that they can’t afford it, but if they think about the benefits, they will be more likely to say “yes” and make it work for them. Additionally, your business might rely on donations so you could approach future donors by saying “I know everyone is asking you for money this time of year, but you’re one of our best donors.” By starting with the negative and ending with the positive, you’ll be more likely to see success and get the results you want.
One of the biggest responses people in business get is the dreaded “I’d like to, but I can’t.” They’d like to buy from you and help you out in some way, but they can’t. So how can you combat this? You can use the technique “but-reversal:” repeat back what the person said, but with a small adjustment. For example, you could say “You can’t, but you’d love to?” This reversal focuses on the positive part of the interaction, and while it may not garner more successful results, it will at least change the person’s feelings about the interaction.
Another technique you can use is to replace “but” with “and.” This technique is called “and-linking.” So for example, let’s say you work for a gym and a person comes in to discuss joining. Your job is to get that person to commit to joining, and perhaps you want to convince them to choose a longer commitment or a higher monthly rate. How can you use "and-linking" to your advantage? Instead of simply discussing numbers and showing them the different packages, you could say “Let me show you around our gym, and then we can look at some numbers?” This usually leads to a “yes” from the potential buyer, and remember the more yeses you get, the more likely you’ll see success!
Chapter 4: The Magic of “Because”
As humans, we attempt to put meaning behind everything. We crave information and we like to know why we need to do something. We are far more likely to act if someone gives us a reason to, right? If your partner asks you to do a simple chore of taking the trash out, you might instinctively ask “Why?” Your partner might say, “Because we cooked fish tonight and tomorrow morning the scraps of fish in the trash will be incredibly unpleasant.” Because you have a reason, you’ll be more likely to do this simple chore.
A Harvard professor once tested this theory and power of “because” by simply cutting the line at the photocopy machine in her office. First, she tried to cut the line without explaining her rudeness. She was successful 60 percent of the time. The next time, she decided to use the word “because” to give a reason, but a completely illogical one like “because I have to make some copies.” Despite the irrational reason, her success rate jumped to 93 percent.
“Because” is a magic word that can influence motivation in others, but there are certainly many techniques to using the word “because” to your advantage. The first is the Advanced Because Technique or ABT in which you get people to say “because” to themselves. While this technique is called “advanced,” it’s actually quite simple. By asking “why” over and over again, you can tap into the other person’s "becauses." Going back to the person who works at the gym, that employee might divulge in some small talk with their potential buyer when giving a tour of the gym. This is a great place to use ABT by asking questions like “Why do you want to join the gym?” or “Why is exercise important to you?” This forces the person to tap into their reasoning for wanting to purchase a gym membership.
Another example would be a company that has recently struggled with employees meeting deadlines. Instead of simply scolding employees and telling them why they aren’t performing well, you should ask “Why do you think you’re having a problem meeting the deadlines?” This forces the employees to search for their own “becauses.” People are far more likely to change and meet expectations if they came up with the idea themselves.
For instance, The Square Suggestion Technique suggests that if you tell a person to “Think of a shape right now, such as a square, a circle… or whatever.” Then the person will more likely think of any shape except a square or circle. Simply put, people want to be immune to suggestions, they want to think of their own ideas and feel like their thoughts are their own.
Chapter 5: The Magic of Using People’s Names and the Word “If”
Why is it that when you’re in a noisy room, you can pick out the sound of your name, just like that? You could hardly hear the person next to you, and suddenly your attention was elsewhere. That’s because we are biologically programmed to pay attention to the sound of our names. Using a person’s name is an important magic word that can help you build trust and a connection with others.
People place importance on their names, and for good reason! Names are a part of our identity and so people feel highly valued with they hear their name or even a word that issimilar. This is called the Name-letter effect where people tend to prefer the letters in their name over any other letter in the alphabet. For instance, research proves that people named Cathy prefer Coke to Pepsi, and people named Peter prefer Pepsi. Additionally, the number of women named “Georgia” is 88 percent higher in Georgia than in any other state. If this doesn’t prove the power of names, I don’t know what else does.
Using names is powerful, so it’s important to use them wisely. First, people often leave jobs when they feel underappreciated or not valued. It’s important to see your employees as people and not numbers. To help with this, learn names quickly and identify introverts. Call on introverts by name to get their input, perhaps even send them a direct email instead of asking their opinion in front of their peers. It's important to work with people one-on-one at times to make them feel appreciated and valued. Additionally, you can use names to defuse an escalating situation. If a person begins to go off the rails, you can bring them back down to earth simply by saying their name. It will both calm them as well as bring their attention back to you. So, remember names. Listen to it once and say it back twice, make active visual aids to remind you.
Tim David argues, “For all the value that using someone’s name brings to the table, you can really blow it big time by forgetting their name.”
The next magic word, “if,” forces people to think hypothetically and has many powerful abilities to help foster motivation and engagement. One of the powers of “if” is that it has the power to combat reverse psychology. As mentioned in the magic of “because,” people are more likely to make a decision that is their own, people don’t want to be influenced. This can be further proven with the magic of “if” when Matthew T. Crawford and his colleagues once asked participants to gamble on one of two equally skilled football teams. If one of the researchers suggested betting on a particular team, the participant would bet on the other team 76.5 percent of the time, simply because they wanted to exert their free will. Additionally, when the researchers said statements like “If you don’t bet on them, think how you’ll feel when they win,” then 73 percent of participants took their advice.
You can also use the power of “if” to combat people whose response is frequently “I don’t know” or “I can’t do this.” You can use “if” to guide their thoughts in a certain direction. When someone tells you “I don’t know,” you can simply respond with “What would you say if you did know?” This forces them to direct their thoughts to what they do know which will likely lead them to the answer you are seeking. Additionally, when a person says “I can’t” you shouldn’t simply just respond with “Yes, you can.” This response negates the person’s feelings, instead, you should say something like “I know you feel like you can’t. But what would happen if you did?” Start by agreeing with them, use the “but eraser” and finally, use the magic word “if” to redirect their thoughts.
Chapter 6: Asking for Help and Giving Thanks
The key to having successful employees, students, children, etc. is to turn them from spectators into active participants. For instance, when you go to a comedy show and the comedian asks for participation, they are no longer spectators, but active participants in which the comedian guides them through the experience. Your role as a manager, teacher, parent, etc. should be similar. So how can you do this? Ask for genuine help.
As a manager, asking for help has a different name. It’s called “delegating” and there is a right and wrong way to delegate tasks. For instance, if someone asks for a task, let them take it! Even if they are a newbie, they will appreciate the challenge and the opportunity. Your job is to foster engagement, so giving tasks to those who ask is important. Additionally, you should resist the urge to fix or correct their methodologies. Remember that a task can only have one owner, so when you jump in to correct, you have taken back ownership. In doing so, you have ruined your relationship with that person.
Think about which is more important. The task or the relationship? In some scenarios, the task is certainly more important when stepping in to fix and correct. For instance, a driver’s ed teacher might need to intervene to correct the driving of a teenager. Or a nurse might need to intervene to correct the dosage of a patient. Both could have dire consequences if done incorrectly, so before you intervene, think about the consequences and determine which is more important.
The last magic word is “thanks.” “Thanks” is important to the success of any business. They need to thank all those involved, from the employees to the customers. Customers who feel valued are more likely to return and employees who feel appreciated are more likely to stay. After a project, an employee should feel both accomplished and proud of what they’ve done, and part of that is receiving praise from their boss. Keep your employees happy by showing appreciation for what they do. This can come in more ways than simply saying “thanks.” Perhaps start by smiling more often, even showing up on time shows that you value your employee’s time. Create a “thanks-culture” where everyone is recognized. Remember: your business wouldn’t exist without them!
Chapter 7: Final Summary
Your body language and your tone of voice can indeed say a lot about how you feel and communicate; however, we shouldn’t discredit the magic of our words. Words are powerful, they have the power to motivate and influence others, but they also have the power to tear someone down. When used correctly, our words can create a culture of positivity and build a human connection unlike any other. Communication is key in building a strong connection, and the seven magic words can help you make that connection even stronger. Elicit “yes” while avoiding “no.” Redirect a person’s attention with “but.” Motivate with “because” and “if.” And finally, show your appreciation with “help” and “thanks.” These simple, but powerful words can influence those around you, and when used correctly, they can change the way people get things done both professionally and personally.