4 Magic Words and Phrases That Will Make You Sound Smarter

Smart is the new sexy.

Ashton Kutcher said it best, "the sexiest thing in the entire world is being smart, being thoughtful, and being generous. Everything else is crap." (See also: Want to Be More Attractive? Work These 5 Magic Words (and Phrases) Into Your Vocabulary)

However, appearing smart takes more than just throwing on a pair of glasses and learning complicated words, such as denouement or onomatopoeia. To help you smarten up, here are four magic words and phrases to work into your speech and writing.

1. "Because"

This is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It's so powerful that it increases your chances of getting people to agree with you.

Let's imagine that you are waiting in a long line to use the photocopier. Somebody tries to cut in and asks you "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" According to one study, only 60% of individuals would let the person cut in. But when the person tweaks his question to "I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I am in a rush?" a whopping 94% of individuals would let the person cut in.

But wait a minute, aren't most of us, including those waiting in line, in a rush? Why in the world would virtually everybody let that person cut in line? The answer is that people simply like to have a reason for doing what they do (a.k.a. "What's in it for me, buddy?"). By using "because" you're providing that reason. Turns out that most of us won't argue when provided a reason, even if it may not be that great.

2. "You're Right"

One of the advantages of being smart is that you win arguments. "You're right" is your magic shortcut to appear smarter during arguments and, hence, win them more often.

The main issue with arguments is that they take place when there's a problem that needs to be resolved. Whenever there are problems, you will have to deal with conflicts. If you only focus on the negative aspects of the conflict, then the arguments get heated. Nothing good comes out of a heated discussion.

The best way to keep a balanced argument is to make three positive comments for every negative comment that you make. By keeping the negativity in check, you're increasing your chances of solving the problem. "You're right" achieves this for you.

"You're right" is a magic phrase for two reasons. First, it's an easy crutch to use when you can't come up with a positive comment. For example, you can use it when the other person mentions a fact ("You're right, the invoice does show 17 widgets."). Second, "You're right" kicks in the rule of reciprocation. By making this concession, the other person is obligated to return a concession of their own.

3. "Instantly"

From headache-relief pills to menu items to answers, we want things to work right now.

MRI studies have shown that our brains get all excited at the mention of instant gratification. That's why you can't sound like it will take too long to work with you. You have to add to your vocabulary words that trigger that much needed instant gratification, such as "instantly," "immediately," and "fast."

  • Say "I'll get back to you immediately" instead of "I'll get back to you."
  • Promise to deliver fast results, not just results.
  • Assert "my proposal addresses your needs instantly."

An important warning is that when you use "instantly," you must deliver on your promise. Nothing is worse than failing to meet the high standards that made somebody choose you over somebody else. You may get away with under-delivering on your promises once, but once the word gets out, nobody will buy your empty promises any more.

4. "Even…"

Throughout your day you do your best to convince other people to do things, for example:

  • Asking your 5-year old son to eat his vegetables.
  • Requesting your boss for an extra 20 minutes during your lunch break.
  • Calling your insurance company for a discount on your premium.

We have already discussed how using "because" dramatically increases your chances of getting your way, but here's an extra way to make your offer irresistible: Downplay your request through the smart use of "even".

In a study, people were asked for donations using two types of requests:

  1. "Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?"
  2. "Would you be willing to help by giving a donation? Even a penny will help."

When using the first question, only 28% of people donated. When using the second question that included the "even" statement, 50% of people donated.

By setting minimal parameters for your request, you can make people almost twice as likely to agree to it. The best part of this study is that donors that responded to the second question donated the same amounts as donors from the first question. This means that if you ask your boss, "Can I get an extra 20 minutes for my lunch break? Even five will help," she will still agree to give you the full 20 minutes.

What words or phrases do you find smart? Please share them in comments!

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Appearing smart takes more than just throwing on a pair of glasses and learning complicated words, such as denouement or onomatopoeia. To help you smarten up, here are four magic words and phrases to work into your speech and writing. | #lifehacks #phrases #smart

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Guest's picture
J. Mae

This is a great piece. However, I can only assume that the title actually underscores its true brilliance. This article isn't about "sounding" smart. It's about using one's own sense of language or verbal skills to manipulate certain situations and achieve desired results. It's about the outcomes. And it's great. It's essentially analyzing the grass roots of marketing or certain maneuvers that allow most of us to network successfully...because yes, the words we use mean the world to the ears and eyes that are directly in front of us.

Damian Davila's picture

Thank you J. Mae. You're not alone in suggesting a title change. A couple of persons on Facebook and Linkedin mentioned the exact same thing. Still, I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the piece.

Guest's picture

Not sure that I agree this is good advice. Here's why...for most of these people you work with regularly will catch on to repeated use.
1. Because - there may be some usefulness here. However there are much better words and strategies you can use. I would think it's better to ensure you're priorities are set and you should be able to defend you're position better than 'because'. "I need the copier because I'm in a hurry" So? It's tricky to assume the person ahead of you isn't also in a hurry. Tread lightly with "because" because it sounds like a 4 year old's tactic.
2. You're Right - the old adage of 3 positives to 1 negative is tired. People will see through this approach easily. Why search for 3 positives when you could just be honest with tact and diplomacy. There's no place for heated arguments in a professional environment or really any environment. Keep your cool, state you case using facts and be open to being wrong yourself. Conflict is ok and sometimes you'll lose. That's how it works.
3. Instantly - I feel this is the worst advice here. You need to know your priorities. Only say this if you can honestly deliver. If you can't, you need to set expectations. You could use "because" here it's fair to say "I can get that for by X as I'm currently engaged in A, B, C which are priorities for me right now". People will respect you more when you provide real, truthful expectations than if you miss deadlines because you are 'instantly' responding to less important items.
4. Even - be careful that this doesn't sound like pleading. Use it too often and people will get the impression you can't get results any other way.

One word choice I've found has changed the dynamic in many meetings/conversations is to replace But with And. It builds on the conversation positively rather than killing it with potential negative. Are you listening to what is being said or waiting for your chance to talk? This approach forces you to think about adding to the discussion instead of focusing on the negatives and trying to one up others (of which many of us are guilty). Not always useful in practice, but a good concept to think about.

Damian Davila's picture

Thank you for your detailed reply, Terry. Your advice to switch "but" for "and" is very useful and effective.