Book Review: Magic Words

Book: Magic Words  

By: Jonah Berger 

Reviewed by: Colleen Jones 

The Premise: Known for his previous bestsellers on human behaviour Jonah Berger engages readers with his research on the subtleties and impact of the language we choose to use in everyday communications. Berger’s provocation is that by making small shifts in the words we choose to use, we can make meaningful differences in how we influence, make decisions and even how we think. Berger draws his conclusions from his research extensive research leveraging computational linguistics, machine learning and natural language processing to assess the impact of word choices. 

The Bottomline: In this engaging and easy read, Berger delves into both language and psychology to showcase how specific words can alter our understanding of situations, sway our emotions, and even change our behaviour. Berger offers both real-life case studies and his own research, to demonstrate how the strategic use of words can shape social dynamics and create lasting impressions.  

In Magic Words, Berger offers six different types of word choices that influence the impact and effectiveness of our message: Words that activate Identity and Agency, Words that Convey Confidence, Asking the Right Questions, Leveraging Concreteness, Employing Emotion and Harnessing both Similarity and Difference.  

Each chapter introduces a different strategy and provides examples through compelling scenarios. While sometimes the examples provided may prove to be overly extensive, they offer the reader clear examples of how and why the word choices work. 

What I find most useful about Berger’s Magic Words, is the practical direction, tips and advice it provides to readers. Going beyond a philosophical exploration of how language works, every reader can take away strategies and ideas that they can leverage immediately.

Recommendation: Highly recommend. I am a bit of a language junkie, but I think this book is especially useful for leaders who are working on how to be more persuasive, more explicit in their communication or more compelling in how they are galvanizing their teams.  

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