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Sometimes, it takes a single word — like “because” — to change someone’s mind.

That’s according to Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who’s compiled a list of “magic words” that can change the way you communicate. Using the word “because” while trying to convince someone to do something has a compelling result, he tells CNBC Make It: More people will listen to you and do what you want.
Berger points to a nearly 50-year-old study from Harvard University, wherein researchers sat in a university library and waited for someone to use the copy machine. Then, they walked up and asked to cut in front of the unknowing participant.
They phrased their request in three different ways:
  • “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?”
Researchers found that both requests using “because” made the people already making copies more than 50% more likely to comply. Even the second phrasing — which could be reinterpreted as “May I step in front of you to do the same exact thing you’re doing?” — was effective because it indicated that the stranger asking for a favor was at least being considerate about it, the study suggested.
“Persuasion wasn’t driven by the reason itself,” Berger wrote in a book on the topic, “Magic Words,” which was published last year. “It was driven by the power of the word.”
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Other ‘magic words’ like because, and how to use them

Companies use “because” to make their advertisements more convincing, behavioral scientist Nuala Walsh wrote in an column last year: Makeup company L’Oréal has used the slogan “Because you’re worth it” for five decades, and furniture stores need you to shop their sales now “because it’s for a limited time.”
The seven-letter word isn’t the only one with communication superpowers. Arguments, requests, and presentations aren’t any more or less convincing when they’re based on solid ideas, Berger says — rather, they depend on the individual words you use.
“You could have excellent ideas, but excellent ideas aren’t necessarily going to get people to listen to you,” he says. “Subtle shifts in our language can have a big impact.”

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Improve Your B2B Marketing Strategies

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Saying and writing the word “recommend” instead of “like” makes people nearly a third more likely to follow your suggestions, Berger noted in his book. The same is true when you swap out verbs for nouns, he says: People are up to 30% more likely to oblige your requests when you ask for helpers instead of help or voters instead of votes.
You can and should use these strategies when you’re on the receiving end of a conversation. Berger says: Listen to other people’s specific words and craft a response that speaks their language. Doing so can help drive an agreement, solution, or connection.
“Everything in language we might use over email at the office … [can] provide insight into who they are and what they’re going to do in the future,” says Berger.

Related: Business Awards Get Your Business Noticed.

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Megan Sauer

Article by Megan Sauer

Success Reporter, Make It

Megan Sauer is a reporter at CNBC Make It. Previously, she worked for Chicago magazine and as a freelance writer for publications like Condé Nast Traveler, USA Today, and SKATING magazine. Megan, a Michigan native, has a bachelor’s degree from Adrian College and a master’s from Northwestern University. You can follow her on Twitter at @meggsauer.