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Persuasion expert shares how one word makes people 30% more likely to change their minds

This tactic can immediately get someone on your side.

persuasion, jonah berger, identities

Here's how to be 30% more persuasive.

Everybody wants to see themselves in a positive light. That’s the key to understanding Jonah Berger’s simple tactic that makes people 30% more likely to do what you ask. Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the bestselling author of “Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way.”

Berger explained the technique using a Stanford University study involving preschoolers. The researchers messed up a classroom and made two similar requests to groups of 5-year-olds to help clean up.

One group was asked, "Can you help clean?" The other was asked, “Can you be a helper and clean up?" The kids who were asked if they wanted to be a “helper” were 30% more likely to want to clean the classroom. The children weren’t interested in cleaning but wanted to be known as “helpers.”


Berger calls the reframing of the question as turning actions into identities.

"It comes down to the difference between actions and identities. We all want to see ourselves as smart and competent and intelligent in a variety of different things,” Berger told Big Think. “But rather than describing someone as hardworking, describing them as a hard worker will make that trait seem more persistent and more likely to last. Rather than asking people to lead more, tell them, 'Can you be a leader?' Rather than asking them to innovate, can you ask them to 'Be an innovator'? By turning actions into identities, you can make people a lot more likely to engage in those desired actions.”

Berger says that learning to reframe requests to appeal to people’s identities will make you more persuasive.

“Framing actions as opportunities to claim desired identities will make people more likely to do them,” Berger tells CNBC Make It. “If voting becomes an opportunity to show myself and others that I am a voter, I’m more likely to do it.”

This technique doesn’t just work because people want to see themselves in a positive light. It also works for the opposite. People also want to avoid seeing themselves being portrayed negatively.

“Cheating is bad, but being a cheater is worse. Losing is bad, being a loser is worse,” Berger says.

The same tactic can also be used to persuade ourselves to change our self-concept. Saying you like to cook is one thing, but calling yourself a chef is an identity. “I’m a runner. I’m a straight-A student. We tell little kids, ‘You don’t just read, you’re a reader,’” Berger says. “You do these things because that’s the identity you hold.”

Berger’s work shows how important it is to hone our communication skills. By simply changing one word, we can get people to comply with our requests more effectively. But, as Berger says, words are magic and we have to use thgem skillfully. “We think individual words don’t really matter that much. That’s a mistake,” says Berger. “You could have excellent ideas, but excellent ideas aren’t necessarily going to get people to listen to you.”

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