Choose your words

The old adage goes ‘You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar’. Spoiler alert: this is no longer only a pearl of etiquette wisdom your Nan might impart. That’s right; it’s now a fact.

Two studies this month have confirmed that choosing your words wisely – scientifically even - give you a much better chance of getting what you want.

In a research study published in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed that if you want to say ‘no’ to something, you are better off saying “I don’t” as opposed to “I can’t”.

The reason?

Your words help to frame your sense of empowerment and control. Furthermore, the words that you use create a feedback loop in your brain that impacts your future behaviors. For example, every time you tell yourself “I can’t,” you’re creating a feedback loop that's a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. In comparison, when you tell yourself “I don’t,” you’re creating a feedback loop that reminds you of your control and power over the situation. 

Of course words can be just as powerful when they are used in persuasion as they are in dissuasion. In another new study also published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Elaine Chan of Tilburg University in the Netherlands and Jaideep Sengupta of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Advertisement, conducted research on the effect of flattery in the sales process.

They conducted a series of experiments to observe the reactions of people – all females - to other customers being flattered in a retail store. It was discovered that even if the flattery sounds sincere, the customers overhearing it will react negatively in two different ways; with hostility towards the flattering salesperson and jealousy towards the object of flattery.

A salesperson should know, therefore, that in praising one person s/he may be displeasing another. But what’s really interesting is that all this negativity will not necessarily have an adverse affect on the buying behaviour of the person overhearing the flattery. On the contrary, the desire to emulate the person being flattered eventually trumps distaste for the salesperson. Make no mistake, the evesdropper still wants to shoot the messenger but she wants to raise herself up to the level of the other customer even more.
The result is that the eavesdropper is likely to actually pony up for a more expensive item than if she had never heard the flattery in the first place. … even if envy produces an automatic negative reaction in observers, it can have a positive influence over time because envy also acts as a goad to action.”

Wrapped up in a convenient, generalisation, it seems has been scientifically proven that by putting some thought into (say it with me, mothers!) choosing your words you can reframe a potentially negative situation and get people to do almost anything.

For example, don’t say …

We clean your bum.


Don’t say …

We don't have enough business and we don't need your room anyway, why don’t you stay on and spread the word about our hospitality.


Don't say ...

Kids, you really need to be careful or you could get hurt.

Say …

There's always an exception to every rule

Instead of saying it with flowers ...


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