Harvard Research Shows Using 1 Word Dramatically Increases Your Ability to Build Consensus and Buy-In


Harvard Research Shows Using 1 Word Dramatically Increases Your Ability to Build Consensus and Buy-In

Swapping one word for another changes the nature of the conversation, and its outcome.

Photo: Getty Images

Some people are unusually persuasive. They influence — in a good way — the people around them. They make people feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

One example is Steve Jobs and his “reality distortion field,” the term used to describe his ability to make people around him believe seemingly impossible tasks were actually achievable.

Since no one ever accomplishes anything worthwhile on their own, unusually persuasive people tend to be more successful — gaining buy-in, agreement, and help not through manipulation or pressure, but by describing the logic and benefits of an idea.

And by using the word “advice” instead of “opinion.”

As Robert Cialdini, the author of the bestselling classic Influence: The Science of Persuasion, says in this video:

We are typically asked for our opinon. “Can you give us your opinion.” That’s a mistake: when you ask for an opinion, you get a critic.

The research shows instead of asking for opinion, or feedback… when you ask for advice, not only are they more favorable to your idea, they give you better, more constructive input… because they want you to be a success.

Other studies bear that out. Harvard Business School researchers conducted a series of experiments and found people who were asked for their advice offered 34 percent more areas of improvement, and 56 percent more ways to improve, compared to people who were asked for their opinions.

Why? As Cialdini says, when you ask for advice, the other person “takes a half-step towards you. They partner with you, inside your idea, to find the best way to structure that idea. So now, it’s you and that person against everybody else.”

Now it’s you and Steve Jobs against the world.

Before you ask for someone’s opinion, put yourself in their shoes. The last time someone asked for your opinion, you probably felt uncomfortable and took a mental half-step back. Opinions are evaluations, and no one likes to evaluate — especially if their evaluation is less than favorable.

The last time someone asked you for advice? That felt flattering. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t think you were smart, or skilled, or experienced. Feeling respected, trusted, and valued probably made you take a mental half-step forward.

In short, asking for opinions makes other people feel uncomfortable. Asking for advice makes other people feel good.

So, stop asking for opinions, and start asking for advice. Best-case outcome? They’ll decide to help you. Medium case? They’ll give you better suggestions and feedback.

Worst case? They’ll feel respected, trusted, and valued.

No matter what, they win.

And so do you.

While we’re talking words….

Do you require your associates to greet you customers with a particular greeting? Studies show that a canned greeting isn’t normally what customers prefer. In most cases it sound unnatural, especially when it doesn’t include a smile and eye contact.

Want to know what other things prevent your customers from becoming raving fans. Give us a call! We would love to help you further develop your customer service culture.



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