Tech & Work

The five words that can swing a meeting in your favour

Frustrated your ideas go unheard in meetings? Academics have identified the five words successful managers use to win backing for their proposals.

Everybody's sat in a meeting where they felt like they were talking but nobody was listening.

But what if there were a sure fire way to get your colleagues to take notice? Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management examined what language is most likely to win over peers when used in meetings.

After applying "machine learning algorithms" to a "very large amount of meeting data" they identified the words most commonly used to gain support for proposals or take the lead in discussions.

These were "yeah, give, start, meeting" and "discuss".

The word may 'yeah' seems surprising as a persuasive word, but, said professor Cynthia Rudin, "when we looked at the way people were using it, we found they were using it to show agreement with something that someone else previously said. Perhaps if you frame a suggestion as if it were in agreement with others, it's more likely to be accepted."

While 'yeah' was most frequently used to garner approval, 'meeting' was most often successfully used to shut down discussion of a topic, she said.

"For instance, someone might say, ‘Maybe this is something for the next meeting,' as a way of gently moving the topic onward without causing offence. That suggestion was almost always accepted," she said.

Rudin and a PhD student Been Kim, said they were also able to identify when key decisions were being made in meetings based on the combination of information provided or requested, and the mix of suggestions, acceptances or rejections.

"This would be useful when listening to a previously recorded meeting and you want to fast forward to the key decision. 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," said Rudin.

The research also found little evidence to support the idea that managers dish out "compliment sandwiches", where they soften the blow of bad news or a criticism by nestling it between positive statements.

"We're just at the beginning of finding ways to use machine learning to produce tools for more efficient meetings. Since everyone wants their ideas accepted, it's worth considering word choice in proposals. You don't want to undermine your idea by not using the right language," said Rudin.


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Editor's Picks