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3 Magic Phrases That’ll Guarantee Success

Looking to have more success in your interactions with others? Being likable (without being a pushover) isn’t always easy. Here, we share some power phrases that are study-proven to help you instantly charm and influence anyone.

To get a yes, go for ‘Goldilocks.’

The key to success in getting someone to agree with you is to offer options, says Dan O’Connor, author of Say This, Not That! (Buy on Amazon, $14.99) “Everyone likes to have choices because it makes them feel in control,” he says. When given multiple options, we’re hardwired to prefer the third — it’s known as the “Goldilocks effect.”

And because people tend to resist the last choice in a series, you should present four ideas and list your preference third. Folks will pick it 75 percent of the time. So, say you want to plan a community food drive, you might suggest to your fellow volunteers, “We can hold a clothing drive, a book drive, a food drive, or ask for donations.” Most will pick the third!

Also smart: Sweeten the deal with a benefit statement like, “If you help with the dishes, we can watch the movie sooner.” This lets folks picture what they’ll gain.

To decline guilt-free, swap out ‘can’t.’

A friend asked you to join a virtual committee and you’d rather not? Just remember the four S’s: Sympathize, Say no, Say why, Suggest alternatives, urges O’Connor. “When most people try to get out of doing something, they say they ‘can’t,’ but that only makes others try to help you by finding solutions, such as suggesting an alternative date to do the activity.”

Instead, say something like, “I’d love to help, but I won’t be able to. If you ask me again next month, I may have more time.” Saying “won’t” is a firm no, and ending with an alternative keeps them from finding their own “fix,” so you remain in control.

To defuse negativity, say ‘we.’

Arguably, the most powerful pronoun is we. If you’re dealing with difficult people, for example, instead of using the word you, which can sound accusatory, simply shift to the more collaborative we, by saying something like, “How can we solve this problem?” advises negotiation expert William Ury, co-founder of the Harvard Program on Negotiation.

Also smart: Borrow Fido’s friendly trick for success! When dogs signal curiosity or affection, they often tilt their head to the side. “We also respond to this body language cue,” says O’Connor. In other words, just “garnishing” your words with this disarming gesture will make you even more persuasive.

Healing words for hard times.

Offer specific support. To help someone through a health challenge, consider volunteering to take on a specific task so they can rest, says O’Connor. You can say, “Which chore do you hate most?” Being specific like this takes the burden off them.

Let yourself be vulnerable. When a friend is grieving, it can be incredibly healing for her to just let out her emotions, and she’s much likelier to do that if she sees you’re upset too. “She’ll mirror your response,” says O’Connor, “so in the end, being vulnerable is the best way to be strong.”

Boost their confidence. If you know someone who has lost their job, highlight what you know they’re good at. For example: “You’re the most organized person I know; you can tackle any task!” Then offer to be their reference. O’Connor explains, “This boosts their self-esteem so they can start their next chapter.”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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