Speak the language of influence

First-rate negotiators are adroit influencers. They know how to subtly guide their counterparts’ thinking by making smart linguistic choices. These are word choices that prime a listener to give a positive reaction. Think about the most influential people you know. I bet they’re skilled in the art of priming. They keep others on-side by framing their messages in positive and collaborative language. This means they get ‘yes’ responses more frequently.



Unskilled negotiators, on the other hand, make mistakes such as overtly challenging others’ opinions, downplaying their counterparts’ needs and using questions ineffectively. They inadvertently trigger negative reactions. For example, just before Christmas last year, I saw a Facebook ad which vividly illustrated the dangers of asking the wrong question. It showed a plate of turkey and roast vegetables, with a jug poised over it. The jug was pouring glitter-infused gravy over the meal. The question beneath this post was ‘Why not add some glitter to your festivities?’ There was not one positive comment posted by viewers. There were hundreds of negative reactions, however.

As an NLP trainer, I could immediately spot what had gone wrong. The ad’s question was framed in a negative format. So the responses were being made in the same vein. Perhaps the advertisers believed that any publicity was good publicity. However, I wonder what would have happened if they’d posed a positive question. For example, ‘How can you add sparkle to your meal?’

This storty highlights the importance of thinking carefully before asking a question. This is particularly true in negotiation scenarios. Rather than asking questions that focus on potential problems, enquire in ways that steer your counterpart towards potential solutions.

In exploring the habits of highly effective female negotiators, I’ve noticed that they consistently use four persuasive language techniques to do this. These are:

  • Benefit frames
  • Tagging for positive intention
  • Smart questions
  • Illusion of choice frames

What all these language patterns have in common, is they focus the listener’s attention on choices and possibilities that are of benefit to them. This is the single most important principle to keep in mind whenever you’re influencing during a negotiation. It doesn’t matter what benefit a proposal or suggestion will bring to you. What matters is how it will deliver results or successes to your counterpart.

When you learn to speak to the benefits which will be experienced by others, your negotiation skills will skyrocket. So how exactly can you learn to do this? Here are five behaviours you can use in everyday situations, which will make positive language patterns habitual.


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Behaviour 1. Go on a negativity fast. Ban words such as ‘can’t’ or ‘but’ from your vocabulary. This will transform the way you sound to other people. Simply quitting the ‘but’ habit can result in less conflict and enriched relationships.

Behaviour 2. Make a point of speaking about positives, even in tough situations. Use optimistic language, express a zeal for life and compliment other people. This type of behaviour is extremely useful during negotiations because it creates a safe space for people to respond to you.

Behaviour 3. Respond in kind when others use positive language. Use the rapport-building technique of matching key words. This will show you understand where your negotiation counterpart is coming from. Remember that matching is a simple way to set the foundations for rapport during any conversation. However, if you want to keep a conversation positive, make sure that you match positive language. Avoid matching cynical or jaundiced perspectives too often. You’ll find that if you pick up on and repeat the one positive statement a so-called negative person makes, they will gradually begin to seed the conversation with more and more positive words.

Behaviour 4.  Find something to agree with. Remember that you don’t have to agree with everything someone said. However, you will become far more influential if you agree with something. Just a small portion of their overall comment is enough.  This is a behaviour is used consistently by truly savvy female negotiators.

Behaviour 5. Actively expand your vocabulary. Speaking positively is easier when you have an ample supply of positive words and phrases at your disposal. Expand your repertoire of words to describe positive emotions and perspectives. Listen carefully to what other people say and ‘benchmark’ their best phrases, adjectives and pronouns. This will not only enrich your vocab, it will also help you listen actively.


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About the author of these tips

Eleanor Shakiba teaches smart professionals to build their social and emotional intelligence. Since 1994, she has been teaching talented people – like you- how to think, communicate and behave in ways that build success. Eleanor holds qualifications in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming.