A new study by MIT Sloan School of Management looked at language used in 95 business meetings to determine which words, if any, increase the likelihood of colleagues and bosses agreeing with a proposal.
What they found: The word "yeah" — not "accomplish," "drive," "results," or other traditional "power words" — is incredibly persuasive.
The researchers also found that the words "start," "meeting," "people," "give," and "discuss" correlate with increased agreement, while "recognition," "speech," "fair," "flat," "middle," "bottom," and "animals" (!) have the reverse effect.
"Yeah" is definitely the most surprising of the group. Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, says, "Words announce to the world how you feel and what you think about important workplace values like respect, commitment, accountability, gratitude, initiative, service, and excellence." So how can a word like "yeah," which hardly exudes accountability and excellence, get you ahead?
Apparently, it has to do with where in the sentence you drop the "yeah":
Dialogue segments where the word "yeah" is used include: "or yeah, maybe even just a limited multi-colour so it doesn't look too childish," "yeah, if you had one of those, just coming back to your other point about pressing the button and setting oﬀ the bleeper in the room," "Yeah if you are holding it in your hand you could do that." [Learning About Meetings]
So "yeah" works best, not as a casual agreement, but as a transition. "Our hypothesis is that framing a suggestion as an agreement with a previous suggestion increases its chances of being accepted," says the study. "That is, if the idea comes across as if it were in line with previous thoughts by others, the suggestion has a higher chance of being accepted. This applies either when attributing the full idea to others, or just the line of thought."
So there you have it: The secret to success is front-loading your sentences with "yeah." Yeah, you've got this.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- After Ferguson, we don't need another dialogue on race
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- The government is getting into the fact-checking business. Be very, very afraid.
- The world is on fire and neither Democrats or Republicans have a clue
- How Democrats might goad the GOP into shutting down the government
- In defense of Obama's golfing
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
Subscribe to the Week