How to Exert Influence Through Language

Any idea catches - but how can we convince someone of a particular idea? What role does language play? This post answers how to choose the words to influence anyone.

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Any idea catches.

Think about it for a moment: even crazy ideas catch (or else we wouldn’t have so many conspiracy theories). The spectrum of human ideas might be vast and far-reaching, but every idea has its own adepts.

So how can we convince someone else of a particular idea? How can you influence the outcome of anyone’s mental processes? Is it even possible to consistently exert the authority needed to make your ideas catch like wildfire?

Why language is important

When we talk about authority, don’t think of it as some sort of tyrannical delivery of ideas. On the contrary, authority is subtle. And irresistible. In an increasingly self-protective world, influence is authority. And the way we exert influence has a lot to do with the language we use.

To make my point, consider that more than anything, people will recognize their own brilliance and greatness before they’d be willing to recognize the same qualities in others. Think about it: in the face of modern or contemporary art, man says “I could have done that too”.

Write this down somewhere and remember it well: we trust ourselves more than we trust others.

Consequently, we trust our own judgement almost blindly. When we speak, the language we use projects our ideas the exact same way our brain thinks about them. Some words have personal meaning to them. They often stray from the conventional understanding, sometimes enough to prevent us from being “properly” understood.

How to choose the right language

There’s a very simple trick when it comes to speaking someone else’s language: use their own words.

And when I say their own words, I mean the exact same words they use. Listen carefully, remember the words, and say them again. It doesn’t have to be a whole phrase, it can be as little as a sequence of one to three words.

The best chance you have of actually making people believe they came up with your ideas by themselves is to repeat the words they say. This short-circuits their brain and makes them think: “I said that.” So when you follow up with your idea, they’re already thinking that you’re just repeating something already theirs.

A word of advice: don’t be too eager or too insistent about spreading your ideas. The result will not be instantaneous. The bigger the idea, the longer it will take for it to take roots.

What you’ll typically experience is this: no matter the initial response, after a while you’ll hear your idea repeated as if you never had the discussion in the first place.

If you don’t believe me, try it

My wife is naturally very good at this, and didn’t even realize it until we talked about it. She often complains to me that people steal her ideas, when really they’re being influenced into thinking they were the first to think of it.

She’s partially right: people steal ideas from each other all the time. The more appealing it seems, the likelier to be “borrowed”. And even though you might initially think “hold on a second, why would I want my ideas being stolen?”, the answer is: results.

That’s right, if what you’re after is results, then this technique will work wonders. Just like in the movie Inception, the moment you convince someone an idea originated in their head, the brain is going to work very hard to convince itself of its origin. Once it’s finished, however, you’re going to hear the words you once used take a new life from someone else’s lips.

Language, verbal or not, is a very powerful tool. To master its use is to break free from our own limitations. In the hope that you’ll use it for good, I leave you today with one last lesson:

In the beginning, it wasn’t chaos. In the beginning… was the Word.

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