How Your Words Support Your Influencing Tactics

words influencing negotiation

Are only highly trained diplomats and negotiators able to use the appropriate words to influence the other party? What can be the impact of the words you use? How to increase your awareness of the impact your words may have? How to use words to reinforce your influencing skills? These questions will be answered in the following lines to help you best use words to achieve your goals.

The way we say what we want to say

They are so many ways to say what you want to say. Some talk a lot, and some say very little. Some make a lot of statements, and some use more questions. Some voice their emotions and some hide emotions. Some support their communication with gesture, and some are more refrained. Some have a very lively facial expression, and some are more controlled. Some use the words that first come to their mind, and some are carefully choosing them.
The difference between skilled influencers and less skilled people is that the skilled ones are aware of the power of managing what they say and the way they say it.

The impact of what we say

To influence others, just saying what comes to our mind could work by chance. In most cases the reflex message or response are not that effective as they represent how we feel and what we think without considering the impact our words may have on the other party.

Situation 1: Reacting to a child doing something stupid

Take the example of parents confronted with a 10-years old child having just done something stupid. I would guess, parents are aiming at helping their child to reflect on what was just done and to avoid repeating the same action or behaviour.
Having this goal in mind, let us consider some possible reactions and reflect on the impact each response may have on the child.
What is the impact on the child if they say “Why are you so stupid? I told you already 10 times not to do this.”?
Would it have a different impact if they say “This behaviour is unacceptable! Go immediately to your room.”?
Or “It’s not the first time you’ve done this! Why are you doing this?”. Or maybe “Have a seat please, I would really like to discuss why you are doing this”.
I guess there must be dozens other ways to react.
The question parents should always ask before reacting is “What words will help my child change his behaviour?”.

Situation 2: Delegating a task to a team member

Imagine a leader asking a team member to perform a very urgent task. As the leader, you can think of different means to deliver the instructions; you may send a text message, give a call, organise a VC, or discuss face to face.
How will the mean used, influence the receiver?
Assume the leader decided to call the team member. How much will the following wording influence the outcome?
·   Let’s review your planning together and agree upon what can be postponed making sure you can deliver this 9am tomorrow.
·   It’s important. By when can you deliver it?
·   I need your help. It’s an urgent task!
·   Do me a favor please. I’m in trouble and need it by tomorrow 9am!
·   I do not want you to argue and complain, I need it by tomorrow 9am!
·   You got no choice. I need it by tomorrow 9am!

Here again they may be a lot of other ways for the leader to express his needs.
Is there a correct way and a wrong way to do it? Is there a best way?
Reading those lines and you might think “it is obvious what will work and what won’t!”.
But in reality… it depends!

Situation 3: Ensuring safety on a freeway

Imagine. It is a foggy day, you are in heavy traffic on the freeway. By lack of attention, you bump into the car in front of you, the one behind you bumps into yours and so on.
Consequently, traffic stops. People start to get out of their car arguing about whose fault it is. There is a high risk of injuries and maybe even worst. The freeway needs to be secured and people must move to a safer place.
Taking the lead to protect people, you are confronted with quite a large choice of words and attitudes to achieve your goal. Which approach is the best one?
Should you be directive and impose actions to the people? Should you convince them that working together may be a safer approach?
Would it work if you were to say, “Please, it’s dangerous here! We need to secure the place. Let’s have a meeting and discuss our different roles and responsibilities.”?
All joking aside, making the most optimum choice requires a great deal of emotional intelligence!

Managing the atmospherics with a conscious choice of words

As seen in the previous examples, they are many options to achieve the outcome we are looking for. There is no right or wrong option. They are options that create a certain reaction while other options create different ones. Before reacting, it would be helpful to think about what our responses may trigger by the other party and how this reaction will help us achieve our desired outcome.
To make it simple and comprehensive, let us agree that what we say and how we say it can invite to either collaboration or confrontation.
I hope you will agree that there are times where directiveness, challenges, confrontation and even maybe aggressivity are required to help us reach our goal. They are other times where collaboration, support, empathy and maybe even concessions will be more productive toward our goal.
We need to develop the flexibility to control the responses we give and to avoid our amygdala choosing our response for us.

Red style and blue style

At ENS, we refer to collaboration as the blue style. The blue style can be displayed on a line going from blue 10 (conceding) to blue 1 (listening). Competition is the red style, going from red 1 (focused) to red 10 (aggressive).
At times we want to create tension and put pressure, we need to consciously choose a red style and create a red climate, combining different tactics to support and reinforce our red style negotiation. Words and the way we say them will support this red climate we are aiming at creating.
If our aim is to invite to collaboration and to be supportive, we choose consciously a blue style and we create a blue climate, combining different tactics to support and reinforce our blue style. Here again, words and the way we say them will support the blue climate we want to create.
There is, in the blue style as well as in the red style, a shading to express how cooperative or how competitive we want to be. On the scale 1 to 10, we are referring to socially acceptable behaviours.

Style flexibility and its challenges

Some of us are by nature competitive. Red people have a tendency and a preference to refrain from sharing information, they want the other party to make concessions, they are not interested in the needs of the other party, and they have pre-conceived solutions.
The rest of us are by nature cooperative. Blue people are interested into the needs of the other party, they are happy to share information, they ask questions and are willing to discuss possible concessions to create a valuable solution for both parties.
We are what we are. If our reflex style is blue, that is fine. Is it red, that is also fine!
We all must develop style flexibility, meaning a cooperative person should be able to become competitive when achieving the goal requires it. Same for the competitive person having to learn becoming cooperative.
That sounds easy while reading those lines. The reality is a bit more complex. How do you react while confronted with a real-life situation where emotions get involved? Research has shown that we tend to go back to our reflex style, meaning very often that we have a sub-optimal response that brings us far from our desired outcome.

The power of words

I can recall times when Bill Clinton, former US president and Boris Eltsine, former Russian Federation president had laughs and were hugging in front of cameras. That was a blue time celebrating the end of the cold war and hoping for a bright future of nations developing normal relations.
A lot has changed since then. Today, I would qualify the current relationships between the western world and Russia as quite red…
Putin, very competitive, reinforcing his position at the Ukrainian border, requesting from NATO that Ukraine will never join the organisation.
Biden threatening with further economic sanctions if Russia doesn’t step back.
The climate here is really red. Red on both sides. The red climate is supported by red words as well as red tactics. Listen to the press conferences and read the press releases on both sides. You will find very few signs of willingness to collaborate.
How red can it go? What is to be done to stop escalation? How style flexible are the parties involved? And maybe even more important, what are the needs of both sides and what is the outcome they both are looking for?
Will right words at the right time avoid weapons to be used?


Red is good, so is blue.
Skilled negotiators and influencers can flex their style and use appropriate words to support their chosen negotiation style.
Often, blue people struggle to play red and find lots of excuses to explain why they avoid going to confrontation.
Often red people struggle to play blue and find lots of excuses to explain why going blue is a waste…

Words are so powerful if used consciously. Thinking about the words you may use and thinking about how you will express those words is a great step in the direction of flexing your style and managing the climate of your interactions to get more of what you want.


1.    Think about your behaviour and the words you tend to use when under pressure.
2.    Think about the style scale and define your reflex style. Are you a red person or are you a blue person?
3.    Try position your style on the scale 1 to 10.
4.    Show your self-evaluation to people knowing you and discuss how far they agree with you.
5.    Think about your comfort zone when it comes to your style flexibility.
6.    Think how you could enrich your wording to extend your comfort zone.
7.    Start to practice during your influencing situations.


PS: Regarding the situation in Ukraine, while writing this article at the end of January, I was hoping weapons will not be used. A few weeks later, on February 24th, 2022, Putin decided that the use of weapons is the most appropriate call of action to achieve his desired outcome. What are the hidden needs of the parties involved that haven’t been identified?

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Andy Marko
Andy Marko is recognised as a talented and passionate influencing and negotiation expert. Global corporations trust him to help them take a helicopter view and develop plenty of options to be better equipped in difficult negotiations. Visit his profile to learn more here.