24 January 2024

Review: Magic Words by Jonah Berger

Magic Words by Jonah Berger audiobook cover

Magic Words - What to Say to Get Your Way by Jonah Berger was an interesting audiobook and the author's research promises to reveal 'how six types of words can increase your impact in every area from persuading others and building stronger relationships, to boosting creativity and motivating teams'.

According to Berger, digital language processing tools have revolutionised the social sciences, and after analysing countless movie scripts, customer service calls, academic papers, millions of online reviews, song lyrics and more, he has comprised a list of six types of words.

Listening to this audiobook and flipping through the ebook from my library, I'm not left with 6 specific words burned into my brain - like please or thank you - rather the book was more about how to use words more effectively. Here's more in the author's words.
"This book uncovers the hidden science behind how language works. And more importantly how we can use it more effectively to persuade others, deepen relationships and be more successful at home and at work." Introduction
The one magic word I will take away from reading this is the word 'because'. The author tells us of an experiment where the test subject asked if they could push in front of a queue of people waiting in line to print a document. First they asked nicely and then they made the same request and used the word 'because' and followed on with words to the effect they were in a hurry. I was surprised that the word 'because' resulted in the request being met more favourably because it's an approach I already employ. (Pun intended).

Having said that, I thought the success lay in spending more time talking with the person to make a case, hence lessening the rudeness of the request and explaining the reason in an attempt to mitigate blowback. You could argue the word 'because' is a magic word, or in the act of using it, you're also achieving the above.

The second key takeaway for me was the fact that some of us want to claim a desired identity and Berger uses an example whereby young children were asked two questions in order to determine the best approach. Children were asked "can you help clean up the blocks?" or "can you be a helper and clean up the blocks?" Those asked to be helpers were more enthusiastic to help in the task.

Rephrasing the request makes the task of helping seem like an opportunity to claim the desired identity of helper and being a helper is a useful and positive experience that reflects well on the child. This also taps into the naughty/nice and good girl/good boy language that recognises and reinforces good behaviour. Interesting!

Magic Words - What to Say to Get Your Way by Jonah Berger is full of small moments like this, although having read How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, the majority of the content wasn't new to me. Readers fresh to the topic of language, the art of communication and social sciences will love this!

My Rating:

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