A linguistic science of persuasion (book summary)

A book summary and recommendation of Phil M Jones’ “Exactly What to Say.” Special thanks to Jay Yang for the recommendation. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.

This is a book that shows you the right phrases to improve our chances of convincing someone. It taps on the structure of the English language and cultural norms to get results. Please note that you should adapt some of the phrases for your cultural contexts.

This is a short 66-page book and direct to the point. Each bullet point in my summary gives an overview of each chapter, but you really should read the book along with the examples to internalise the concepts.

I finished reading the book in 3 days. It’s a short but impactful read.

This book has given me a structure to use in conversations and shown me how I can improve my ability as a salesperson. What’s next for me is to consciously apply these phrases until I can use them naturally.

💡 When you want someone to consider your point without resisting you: “I’m not sure if it’s for you, but…”

💡 To force someone to consider something they might not usually do: “How open-minded are you about…”

💡 To make someone second guess themselves, or discover how well informed they are: “What do you know about X?”

💡 To get someone to be more emotional about the positive or negative consequence of an action before making a decision, so they become less analytical: “How would you feel if X happened?”

💡 To get someone to consider the positive or negative consequence of an action before making a decision, so you can appeal to their greed or fear: “Just imagine if X happened.”

💡 To bypass an objection against taking the next step: “When would be a good time (to take the next step)?”

💡 When you need to follow up with someone who has become unresponsive, and get them to act: “I’m guessing you haven’t got around to X.”

💡 Simple swaps: Move people away from Yes / No responses. “Can I have your phone number?” → “What’s the best number to reach you?”

💡 Influence their next steps by influencing their options:

  • Provide 3 options in which any choice would benefit you. They get to choose which one they want. If you want them to eat, offer them a salad, fruit or main dish.
  • Provide 3 options in which only 1 option makes sense for them. The other 2 are false choices. If you’re a cafe owner and someone is hogging a table without buying anything, offer them a beverage, a delicious meal, or ask them to leave.

💡 Reduce their choices by categorising people into 2 categories. “There are 2 types of people. Which are you?” By making such a stark contrast, you make it easier for people to pick sides.

💡 When you have some rapport and want them to feel closer to you, use “I bet you’re a bit like me” and then offer them your opinion of what you’d do.

💡 Use “if.. then” because we’re conditioned to consequential thinking. It also taps into the principle of reciprocity. “If you do this, then I will do that.”

💡 Relieve fear or worry by saying “don’t worry”. Follow up with a positive: “Relax” or “It’s ok” to strengthen the effect.

💡 To get someone to join the majority or to stand out from the crowd, say “most people do X.”

💡 When there’s good and bad news, focus on the good by saying “the good news is…” You can also reframe a negative point with this phrase. “You lost your job? The good news is, you now have some time to give your side hustle a shot.”

💡 Give people a plan to follow instead of asking them an open ended question about the next steps. Instead of “what do you want to do next?” ask “what happens next is that I’ll send you the contract for review and signature. Then we’ll schedule another meeting to begin implementing the solution.”

💡 When you want to find out more about why people said or think a certain way, ask “what makes you say that?” This is a catch-all for most initial objections, including “I’m not interested” and “I can’t afford it.”

💡 If you sense that someone is going to reject (not simply object), buy time with “Before you make up your mind” then summarise the benefits for them, or ask them for further questions and concerns.

💡 To quickly break down an objection and get to the next step, use “If I can, will you?” This is similar to “If… then.” “If I can give you a discount, will you sign the deal today?” (They’ll either sign or negotiate the discount percentage. They are no longer thinking about yes or no, but how much.)

💡 To move someone away from analysis paralysis towards a decisive Yes or No, use “enough”. Instead of “Would you like 20 licences or 40?”, ask “Will 40 licences be enough for your team?” (They might say yes or say it’s too much, to which you can ask “would 30 be good?” and so on.)

💡 If the conversation is about to end and you still need to buy time, use “Just one more thing” and introduce another thing for them to think about.

💡 Ask for small favours after you ask a big one. Works particularly well for getting referrals after they say no to a big ask from you. For example, if they turned down your sales offer, a favour to introduce you to someone they know is considered small. People are likely to accept concessions.

💡 If you get a frustrating and vague objection such as “I need to think about this”, “send me more information”, “I’m not interested”, use “just out of curiosity + objection” to get a breakthrough.

  • “Just out of curiosity, what specifically do you need time to think about?”
  • “Just out of curiosity, what information are you interested in reviewing?”
  • “Just out of curiosity, what about this is not of interest?”

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Jun Han Chin

I write and illustrate ideas around personal development so that you can be 3x more awesome | twitter.com/junhanchin | instagram.com/junhanchin