Choosing Your Words Wisely

Monday, March 21, 2011

words. (TerryJohnston/flickr)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Pollster Frank Luntz, consultant and author discussed his new book, Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary, which offers insights in choosing key words and phrases to sell products.

According to Frank Luntz, his new book should appeal to liberals and conservatives. He writes about how to communicate more effectively to improve business. He says his rules are the same as you would frame language to support a cause or a politician. First of all, you have to know your audience.

Rule #1 is to know whether the person you're talking to is a friend, a foe or undecided because that will form the context by which you communicate. The second rule is to know how well informed they are because that determines the level of the language that you set, but the words that work in private life are the same words that work in business, in politics. 

Here's an example:

"I get it." That phrase, "I get it" communicates, I'm listening, I hear you and I'm going to do something about it..."I get it" stops the conversation and you can then focus on a solution and it's amazing to me how few people use that phrase because it ends the battle and then you start to work together.

Luntz gave more examples: Start a sentence with, "The simple truth" and end a sentence with, "let's get to work." He said the book is filled with this kind of basic language that cuts across partisanship, age and gender differences to help people stop yelling at each other and to communicate properly.

He likes to work for companies that make products he consumes. He then approaches the communication strategy by keeping the consumer perspective in mind, a perspective he knows - not the company perspective. He even does this during an interview.

When I do these interviews, I'm thinking of what I want to communicate to the listener as much as I'm thinking of the questions that you ask me. But it's important because in the end, as much as I want to make you happy with this interview so that you have me back, I also want to ensure that listeners don't click off because then it hurts both of us.

Winning in business requires integrity, Luntz said, but we're dealing with an audience of cynical people — cynical about government and corporations. There are very few things today that Americans aren't cynical about and this is why the words matter, according to Luntz.

They're not hearing what they want to hear and they're not seeing what they want to see so they have a right. I actually would say that people on the left should be mad and people on the right should be mad about what happened in the last five years. It seems like everyone in the elite in America has let people down. But now it's time to stop complaining about it and it's time to start doing something about it and doing it without shouting at each other. You can actually make things happen, you can change the course of your life, of your business, even of your community, your state or your country, but you don't have to do it by yelling at somebody.

At a focus group with the Iowa caucus in February,  10 of 26 Republicans told Luntz they thought President Obama was a Muslim. He says this shows how disconnected a segment from American society is with the president. He'd like to do this kind of focus group with Democrats, too, saying the equivalent myth on the left would be that President Bush had something to do with 9/11.

Luntz also spoke at the California Republican Convention over the weekend and he took an applause poll on presidential hopefuls. Romney and Gingrich got the loudest applause. (Chris Christie fared well too.)

It measures that there are two candidates, that there are two front runners in the Republican battle and that they have the advantage of name ID, but still it's anyone's nomination.



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Comments [16]

Oscar from ny

You mean spin as fast as you can..ll

Mar. 31 2011 11:09 AM

Mr. Leherer:

Sorry for the typos in my previous post.
Here's another idea that you will find odd, but I doubt that it will get any serious air time, at least not before the NPR federal funding issues are settled.

Mar. 21 2011 11:43 PM
Sy Weiss from Fort Lee NJ home of the movie industry !

I am reading David Brooks new book
THE SOCIAL ANIMAL, the hidden source of LOVE,
Character & Achievement.
From what I hear and read, they both are on the
Right Track, (right is not a political term) this time.
I am glad that so many people with IDEAS listen,
and don't understand.

Mar. 21 2011 11:23 PM

Mr. Leherer:

Why am I not surprised that you cannot "identify" even a single "crazy" political delusion held by the "progressive Left"?
(Try typing "michael moore:movies and films"
into Google for a partial catalog)
Do we really want to re-visit the "Bush Deserted From The National Buard" and "Bush Barely Passed Graduate School" Memes of just a few years age? (Oh why do republican-conservative-libertarians find WNYC to be shamelessly partisan?)

Of course Bush "stole" the 2000 Presidential Election - how could he win if NPR - WNYC personnel are unacquainted with anyone (other than those "wingnut" callers and commentators and exotic guests) who will confess they voted for him.

Brian, its always pleasant to hear you voice.

Time for another cup of tea?

Mar. 21 2011 02:22 PM

So what! Curator, please..I guess this conversation appeals to someone--just not me.

Mar. 21 2011 11:53 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

"Bush was involved in 9/11,..."

Well, there is a difference between the LIHOP (Let It Happen on Purpose) point of view which a miniscule portion of Democrats believe and the belief that Bush/Cheney ignored the possibility of an organized terror attack - held no anti-terror committee meetings for the first eight months of the administration; disregarded Clinton's warning; ignored Richard Clark; ignored George Tenet for the summer before the attacks AND then used the attack to advance a depose Saddam agenda which they purposefully failed to mention during the campaign but were clearly anxious to pursue.

My wife believes one with all her heart. To me the evidence suggests the other.

Both views can elicit affirmative responses to the 'Bush was involved..' question but one issues from a sin of commission and the other from omission. Failing to distinguish between the two conflates them which creates a false picture, doesn't it?

GOP Pollsters do the same thing when referring to health care reform. A third of the 'anti' is really Democrats who would prefer the public option.

Mar. 21 2011 11:15 AM
Jan from North Jersey

If Egypt is now at a very preliminary stage in the development of democracy, how would we describe the stage of the US as reflected by the prevalence of "language" consultants like Luntz in the political process? Are we now at the stage characterized by slick consultants advising parties on how to essentially buy elections? Is this still on the continuum of democracy or have we "advanced" to a "higher form" perhaps best described as plutocracy?

Mar. 21 2011 11:02 AM
Jay from NYC

There are a number of equivalently insulting and staggering beliefs held on the left. Starting with the fact that conservatives don't care about the underprivileged.

And now we can cue the respones "Well they don't."

No, you're wrong.

Mar. 21 2011 11:01 AM

It is very difficult to take this man seriously, given that he makes money off of the very thing he is presently deploring. Please!!

Mar. 21 2011 10:59 AM

The expression "the simple truth is..." is a hallmark of oversimplifiers -- an immediate turnoff for listeners engaged in typically complex business scenarios.

Mar. 21 2011 10:59 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

"One of the most respected book places." Wow. This from a guy who is all about choosing your words carefully.

Mar. 21 2011 10:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The problem with "The simple truth is..." is that the truth is never that simple & the person saying it usually has an agenda that s/his version of "the simple truth" is tailored to support.

Mar. 21 2011 10:55 AM

Why does the temperature in the room always drop when this guy comes on?

Mar. 21 2011 10:54 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

I have no doubt that these stupid, declarative grunting phrases are effective in politics,advertising and business in obfuscating and concealing the complex nature of life. Congrats on finally dumbing it down to the point that even a child could be considered an effective communicator of US foreign and domestic policy.

Mar. 21 2011 10:52 AM

These cliches do serve important functions, but they are also dangerous shortcuts for actual thinking, and they thus impede genuine communication.

Has the guest read any ordinary language philosophy?

Mar. 21 2011 10:51 AM
Scott from Great Neck

Frank Luntz represents the founders' worst nightmare: government by emotion.

Mar. 21 2011 10:41 AM

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