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  • Coach K

The Power of Language

It’s not what you say that creates dynamic conversation – it is what you can find out. That is the power of language.

Suppose you and I have discussed your product or service, yet I have not bought from you. We seem to have an affable relationship – I am not dodging calls or failing to respond to emails – the conversation just has not morphed into a buying relationship. You have followed the standard operating procedure of stating your unique selling proposition and providing names of clients who are happy with what you offer, yet the transition from conversation to transaction has not occurred. Why is this?

It’s because you don’t know what I want.


Up to this point, what have you learned about me? I don’t mean my business or my position on the market, but rather what I think about and most importantly what I want. Your probable response is, “Well, I am assuming you want XYZ, otherwise why would you be talking to me?” Notice who the focus of that statement is: It’s you. This response points to what you have done, as opposed to what I may want you to do for me or my organization in the future.

Here’s the trick: We need to know what prospects, teammates, and employees want before we can figure out whether they will buy from us, collaborate with us, or work for us with passion and connection to our mission.

The power of language will help you increase your ability to sell, lead, and get on with people. But power does not mean force. When we examine the difference between power and force, and marry that to a renewed commitment to understand what people want, we are creating a unique alchemy.


Consider the distinction between POWER and FORCE; this is accomplished by thinking about which we might respond to more openly, more positively, more invitingly.

Now, think for just a second about people whom you have encountered recently. Of the ones that you felt drawn to, I’d like you to choose only one word to describe them. Is it POWERFUL or FORCEFUL? Most of us respond to power. We tend to resist force. Power is attractive. Force is repellent. Which word would you hope that people use to describe you?


By making these key distinctions, and considering other people’s plans, hopes, wishes and desires, we are invited to move the conversation forward… together. None of this is effortless; however it does create an environment where we sense a reduction in resistance and friction.

Consider a flight that is so smooth, you forget you are hurtling along at 500+ mph, six miles above the ground. Everything is moving by you (power), as opposed to you leaning into the wind (force).

Now recall a conversation that has yet to reach a satisfying net conclusion. There’s something missing: the power of language. To unleash the power, you must:

1) Ask questions about the other person’s view and vision of the future.

2) Make the conversation more about them than what you would like them to do.

3) Combine those two instructions into understanding what people want. When you do, you will know who you want on the team and who you don’t.

If you remove yourself from the picture, learn about what people want, and help them design their future, they tend to invite you to the next reasonable step – or they may go away. You will not sell to, engage with, or get along with everyone. Accept that, then move on.


The power of language is a Zen concept.


It is about moving forward without any indication that you are anxious to do so. It is focusing on the effortlessness of flying at 35,000 feet. It is arriving without moving.

Here are three primary takeaways on the power of language:


  • Know what people want. The tough part is that we cannot directly ask, “What do you want?” People have trouble articulating their ideas because they may not trust us enough to reveal what they want or their minds may be elsewhere.

  • Leverage the power of language by viewing language as power versus force. Just because you believe you are correct does not equate to the fact that I believe it. We must find harmony before that can be achieved.

  • It is not about what you say – features, benefits, or ultimate net good things for me. It is about what you can find out.

The simplest way to put this into practice is to evaluate key interactions within 10 minutes of their conclusions.


Ask yourself, “What do I know now about that person, their situation, or their plans that I did not know before today?”

The power of language lies not in how many words we employ; but how much what we say it accomplishes.


Think about your next three conversations. Before each one, consider what you hope to accomplish and what language will help you get there.

When the focus is service, a smooth interaction, and an invitation from them to continue the conversation, then we are in the mode to achieve more, sell more, and enjoy our day more.

And that is powerful!

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