Linguistic Pitfalls in Persuasion, Part Two

Hi Persuader,

It seems a few of you were paying attention. That thrills me. (See: “Linguistical Pitfalls in Persuasion (but, if, try, might)” and check out the comments at the end).

Now whether or not I was being sneaky and slipping in an open loop. . . well, I’m not going to admit or deny that at this time. (‘Hey, Kenrick, what’s an open loop?‘)

So for those of you who have been glued to your computers awaiting part two of “Linguistical Pitfalls”, your anticipation is both appreciated and a little strange.

Would have, Could have, Should have, (or, if you prefer, woulda, coulda, shoulda.)

The problem with these phrases is that they’re all in past tense. While this doesn’t seem on the surface to be problematic, they can have a seriously negative impact on your persuasion message.

Generally, you want to be leading people into the present time so they can and will act right now. We don’t want their heads in the past, we want them with us. To borrow a phrase from Ram Dass, we need them to “be here now.” The present is where we’re selling, the present is where they’re buying.

In addition to their nostalgic taint, these words create a whining atmosphere and reek of regret. Whaa! ‘I should have done that. If I had been in a better mindset, I would have taken advantage of the situation. If I would have known. . .things would be so much better.’

And last but not least. . .


I had a high school teach who forbid us from using this word. It’s in a class of words called ‘negations’. Negations, used the way most people use them, can pose a serious threat to your persuasion message, and in fact, can nullify your message entirely.

If you were to say, “You can’t use negations”, this forces your mind to first picture using negations then in some way negating that picture.

What happens when you say to yourself, “I just can’t sleep.” Well. . .it turns out, you can’t sleep.

Any negation forces the mind to think about the very thing that you don’t want the person you’re persuading to do. As you know, one of the most important elements to any persuasion is to get the person who you are persuading to make a mental image of doing what you want them to do.

Words like “can’t” create the very image you don’t want the person to make.

There are some very powerful and creative ways to use negation — just be careful that you use it properly or not at all until you’re comfortable with it.

Okay. Happy now?

How about giving me some examples of how you use negation to your advantage?

Until Next Time,

Kenrick E. Cleveland

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
vinnieb - January 24, 2008

My favorite thing about can’t I explain is that “can’t can never do anything”. I do not use it for any of my abilities for I feel like there is always a way. I reminded my children of this growing up.

James - January 25, 2008

I can’t tell you why this works, I can’t show you what goes on in a man’s mind to make this work, I can’t even imagine the extreme emotions that goes through one’s heart. But you can talk to others who have learned this and I can show you how to do this and you will feel like you have just stepped into a new world, a new reality, almost like a dream because so many people will want to listen to you, so many people will now want your help, so many people will respect you now.


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