Forget presentations, handshakes and power suits: Workers looking to make the biggest impact in a business meeting should instead focus on using a very specific set of words.
New research has found that workers who used the words "yeah," "give," "start," "meeting" and "discuss" ended up with more accepted proposals in meetings.
In the study, Cynthia Rudin a professor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management and MIT student Been Kim examined data from meetings and the impact of certain words during those meetings. The research is particularly important considering that 11 million meetings take place every day, Rudin and Kim said.
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"The study of meetings is important, yet challenging, because it requires an understanding of many social signals and complex interpersonal dynamics," said Rudin. "While there has been a lot of academic work done on meetings, our research is unique in that it is one of the first studies to use a data-driven approach to meeting analysis. There are many published lists of persuasive words, but they weren’t created from a data-driven perspective. We wanted to prove which words are more persuasive using predictive modeling and hypothesis tests."
The specific words were found to be persuasive for a number of reasons. For example, the word "yeah" is believed to show acceptance and agreement of a point of view.
Moreover, "The word 'meeting' is used in suggestions about what not to discuss," said Rudin. "For instance, someone might say, 'Maybe this is something for the next meeting,' as a way of gently moving the topic onward without causing offense. That suggestion was almost always accepted."
The researchers also found that workers must be particularly careful about paying compliments at a meeting, because compliments that follow negative assessments are seen as disingenuous.
"This is a bit counterintuitive because it would seem natural to compliment someone to make up for something negative you said about their idea," said Rudin. "However, that almost never happens."
Additionally, the researchers provided insight into the decision-making process of meetings by looking at words that signal a decision is imminent. Rudin and Kim said that when workers give suggestions, information, acceptances, rejections or information requests, a decision is expected.
"This would be useful when listening to a previously recorded meeting and you want to fast-forward to the key decision," Rudin said. "Or, it might help managers be more efficient if they could be automatically alerted to join a meeting when a decision is about to be made."