“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic”

(J.K. Rowling Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone)

For many years the marketing and sales industry has researched communication as it relates to sales and persuasion. Psychologists have been involved in studies about words, language and aspects of communication as well. We’ve learned that some words have significance because of the  marketing research and others have been studying communication issues involved. 

Kevin Hogan has taught persuasion and influence at the University of St. Thomas management Center and is a frequent media guest as well as an author and lecturer on the subject. He has written and spoken about what he calls “seven magic words of persuasion.” Here they are:

  1. Because: It turns out, the likelihood of getting people to do the things you asked can be substantially increased by using one simple word in your request: “because.” One illustration involved Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard, who conducted an experiment that demonstrated the power of the word. She had students, participating in her study, cut in front of a line of people waiting to use a copy machine. The asked to be allowed to go in front using different words, but not giving a reason for it. Others did the same but gave reasons. The study found that when they used the word “because” irrespective of the reason given, it had a significantly higher consent than those that did not use the word. There was a 60% compliance without using “because” but, a 93% compliance when the word was used. These and other studies have characterized the word “because” a powerful word.

In our trial work we need to remember the importance of always offering a reason for what we are asking be done. In our jury selection it isn’t enough to ask to wait until they have heard the full story about something before making up their minds. We need to give them a  reason why that is the right and fair way to consider an issue. In cross examination if we are critical of something, we shouldn’t assume the jurors will understand and agree. We should add “…because” and the reason.  That’s why we should always give the jury a good reason for what we ask them to do instead of just asking for a result. When we suggest an amount for a verdict we need to add reasons why it makes sense to do so and not just throw out the number.

  1. Imagine: This is a very powerful word and is often referred to in psychology as a “trance” word. When we ask someone to imagine something the process involves temporarily suspending the conscious mind to explore the idea. This results in the rational mind’s critical evaluation not functioning at that moment and the subconscious mind being accessed. The subconscious mind does not distinguish between real and imagined ideas or visions. When someone imagines they create an impactful reality to the subconscious mind.

When we ask jurors to imagine the ways in which a verdict in favor of your client will confer benefit not just on the client but on each of them as well as the community, we activate their subconscious mind with the images involved. If we ask jurors to imagine what our health care would be like if we didn’t have standards of care that are enforced, we trigger a reaction that doesn’t involve rational analysis. Imagine is a magic word in communication.

  1. Now: Everyone wants things of importance done right now. Yesterday is over and tomorrow is too late. Immediacy is what everyone wants. Now is exactly the right moment to start. We all want instant gratification. For example, studies show 80% of the people will abandon trying to watch a video if it takes more than thirty seconds to load. Suggesting the importance of doing something now rather than later or that taking a particular action now will provide specific benefits is a proven motivator.
  1. Please: Saying “please” is not merely fulfilling a social norm, but has an inherent power as well, when sincerely said. It shows respect and consideration for the other person as well as acknowledging their power of control. It communicates rapport, a relationship and respect. When we demonstrate these subconscious ideas to others, they are more willing to return the same. When we are polite and say please in a genuine way, people are more likely to respond in a favorable way to you.
  1. Thank you: Even though these are just words, there is something magic about their effect when said in genuine manner. It not only conveys our gratitude, but is an acknowledgement the other person matters. Laura Trics gave a TED talk “Remember to Say Thank You” in which she argued that those two words can be incredibly powerful especially when the person you thank isn’t expecting them or needs to hear them. She makes the point that most all of us want and expect to be thanked for the things we do. Being appreciated really motivates us, both at work and life. Second, she says it is important in our relationships to say thank you rather than assume the other person knows you are thankful.
  1. Names: Using a person’s name has a unique appeal to the person you are speaking to. Dale Carnegie wisely noted that “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Using a person’s name does have “magic” power more than most people realize. The name we were given becomes our tag and when we hear it we are on alert regarding the speaker. It’s ingrained in us. Watch charismatic people. The first thing they ask for is the other person’s name. It will be the last thing they say when they leave. They will use the name frequently in conversation such as: “So Mike, tell me what brings you here?” “Does your family live here, Jane?” and so on.  A person’s name has power over them; more than you might think.

Remember this when you are dealing with the people in the court room who have significant power like the clerk, the bailiff and court reporter. It is unlikely you would be allowed to call jurors by name, but it may be appropriate to refer to their designation by jury chair in the jury box. For example “can you please turn that so that juror number twelve and everyone in the back can see?” Using someone’s name has a magic to it for the person involved.

  1. Control: We all have a need to feel like we are in control of our situations and and our lives. When we feel we are out of control we feel threatened. A sense of being in control makes us less anxious and more confident. When we communicate the idea that we are in control and not other person, the normal response of the other person is to take a defensive position and an contrary attitude of mind. Making the other person feel like they are in charge or in control of the situation empowers them to respond more favorably to our recommendations and proposals. Acknowledging the power of the other person to control their decisions encourages a more compliant attitude.

Gerry Spence has often told jurors they are in control and they have all the power to decide the case. He has used the analogy of the jurors having the power to  write a check for any amount they want. In the movie Verdict Paul Newman, in the role of a plaintiff’s attorney, tell the jury that “But today you are the law. You ARE the law. Not some book… not the lawyers… not the, a marble statue… or the trappings of the court. Today you are the law.” When we argue something to the judge we don’t say “You are compelled by the law to do this” or “ you have now choice.” Human nature results in an exactly opposite reaction and a competitive refusal to be controlled by  someone else.  Instead, we acknowledge the power of the court to make any ruling they wish, but offer  the reason why they should rule in your favor. These are examples of empowering other people to do what you are asking them to do.

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