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Words That Work

It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear

By Dr. Frank Luntz
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Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Dr. Frank Luntz

Words That Work (2007) is a guide to getting your point across more efficiently and effectively. These blinks explain the power of language and how it can help you in any number of situations, from business to political discussions to getting out of a traffic ticket.

Key idea 1 of 8

Similar words can prompt different reactions among different people – effective communication is about considering your audience.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your words were totally misinterpreted? Have you thought you were saying one thing only to find the other person heard something entirely different?

If this has happened to you, there are likely some flaws in how you communicate; that is to say, your words have failed you. But you’re not alone. In fact, flawed language habits are so widespread that we encounter misunderstandings in everything from politics to business to everyday life.

This is the case because everyone has a different understanding of words. As such, two different words that technically denote the same thing can elicit entirely different reactions.

For instance, “welfare” and “assistance to the poor” essentially mean the same thing. But if you ask Americans, only 23 percent will say that the country is spending too little on welfare, while 68 percent think there is too little “assistance to the poor.”

Clearly, different ways of communicating the same idea hold contrasting connotations. So, while “welfare” conjures up images of “welfare queens” and wasteful government spending, “assistance to the poor” reminds people of charity and Christian compassion.

Effective communication isn’t about your message or what your words objectively mean, but rather how people understand them. It’s essential to consider your audience’s preconceptions, especially their beliefs and fears.

Take the English novelist George Orwell, who knew this well and whose famous book 1984 played on the deep personal fears of his readers.

For instance, one passage describes “Room 101” as a place where one is confronted with her greatest fears. Since the fears of every reader are different, Room 101 became associated with the personal nightmares of any given reader.

But how can you make sure your message is understood as you intended? In the next blinks, you’ll learn more about the main pillars of exceptional communication.

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