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Most Persuasive Word For Meetings

Most Persuasive Four-Letter Word in Meetings (It's Not What You Think)

We're happy to present this post from our friends at Yahoo! Shine.

"What's the magic word?" my mother would always ask me when I was a child and begging for something. It turns out Mom was wrong. The "magic word" for getting what you want isn't "please" — it's "yeah."

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According to a paper published recently by rofessor Cynthia Rudin, Ph.D., and Been Kim, Ph.D., researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, "yeah" is the most persuasive word for getting a proposal or suggestion accepted at a business meeting.

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 "We looked at data from 95 meetings," Rudin tells Yahoo! Shine. "We wanted to examine if persuasive words even exist." The researchers began their study with some skepticism and were surprised to find that, again and again, the word "yeah" was correlated with success. The researchers did not analyze vocal enthusiasm of the speaker but simply the number of times words were correlated with a positive outcome.


Wouldn't you like to make your next meeting more constructive? Productivity could be only four letters away.

According to the study, "In the United States alone, an estimated 11 million meetings take place in a given day." As most workers know, meetings can eat up hours of each working week, and managers spend between 25 and 50 percent of their time each day convening with their colleagues. "If we understand general things about meetings," says Rudin, "such as how to make your meeting more effective, it helps us plan ahead and be more productive."

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Analyzing the language used in meetings, the researchers asked, "Are there patterns in suggestions that are accepted versus rejected? Can we use this to improve how we present ideas to the team?"

They found that, indeed, adding "yeah" to a proposal made the idea "come across as if it were in line with previous thoughts by others," which gives it a greater shot at being accepted. An example might be, "Yeah, the color black would be a great way to go," when you are first proposing that color. The authors mention that a key principle in Dale Carnegie's 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People was to let people think the idea was theirs.

The word "yeah" came into common use around the turn of the 20th century as a casual way of saying yes. Interestingly, "yes" didn't even appear in the study's top 20 most persuasive words. Rudin suggests that is probably because "yeah" is now used more frequently in conversation then "yes." It also is perhaps a more nuanced word and less of a directly affirmative answer to a specific question.

The second- and third-most successful words, according to the authors, were "give" and "start." "Give" was used in the context of offering something to a customer or adding something to a product, and also to "indicate suggestions are based on previous data" — for example, "given these parameters."

The word "start" builds alliances, especially when used early in meetings, and provides an opportunity for the group to agree on basic suggestions — for example, "How about we start with the key issues?"

The authors say that the science of meetings is still in its early stages and that they plan to design more studies and dig deeper. One key goal is to help people communicate more effectively and make wrap-up times more predictable. Shorter meetings? Hell, yeah!

— Sarah B. Weir

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Image Source: Thinkstock
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