Yeah, yeah, yeah: These words will get you ahead in business meetings, yeah?

  • @lukeblackall

For some, repeating the mantra “yeah, yeah, yeah” is a standard way of expediting the increasing the number of meetings that blight many workers’ lives.

But it seems that rather than just being a platitude, “yeah” is in fact one of the most persuasive terms you can use in a staid meeting.

Through statistical analysis, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has come up with a list of terms most likely to elicit a positive response. These include words such as “yeah” and “give”.

“Perhaps if you frame a suggestion as if it were in agreement with others, it’s more likely to be accepted,” says Professor Cynthia Rudin, one of the study’s authors.

“Meeting” itself was another persuasive term, but the team found that this often occurred when people suggested that a topic was “something to discuss at the next meeting”.

David Pearl, a “meeting doctor” and the author of Will There Be Donuts? says it comes down to more than just words.

“It has to do with the words they use, but it has more to do with their plausibility,” he says

Pearl points out that a “yeah” in meetings doesn’t always equate to a “yes” in real life and that people should speak clearly and honestly, with no “hidden agendas”.

“When I work with people I try to get them to, what I call, ‘drain the bath’: whatever language is being used you ‘drain the bath’ to find out what is really meant,” he says. “I teach a lot of what they call ‘real conversations’, which is really sort of hit the pause button and say ‘let’s stop the noise, speak to the point, say what you mean, not what you think the others want to hear’.”

He adds that it’s not the size of your vocabulary that counts, but the way you use it: “Intention trumps all. If people know you are the real deal, you can use really crap language and people will follow it.”

How to get your way

Some of the words that appeared “persuasive”, according to the MIT research, were “yeah”, “give”, “start”, “meeting” and “discuss”. The study also looked at some terms deemed “non-persuasive” by the response elicited, including “recognition”, “speech”, “fair”, “flat”, “animals” and “middle”.