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Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear Paperback – Aug 5 2008

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About the Author

Frank Luntz is one of the most respected communication professionals in America today. He has written, supervised, and conducted more than a thousand surveys and focus groups for corporate and public affairs clients here and abroad. He has developed campaigns for Merrill Lynch, Federal Express, AT&T, Pfizer, and McDonalds. Currently the host of America's Voices on MSNBC, Dr. Luntz is the first resource media outlets turn to when they want to understand American voters. His recurring segments on MSNBC/ CNBC during the 2002 election cycle won an Emmy. He lives in Alexandria, VA.

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217 of 228 people found the following review helpful
People's Perceptions; People's Reality Jan. 19 2007
By Craig L. Howe - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The world's best message is ineffective if the person on the receiving end does not understand or relate to it.

It is a harsh standard. It is a message communicators ignore at their own peril. You can be brilliant, creative, even right, but your message will fall flat unless it touches the hearer's prism of experience, beliefs, preconceptions and prejudices.

In Words that Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear, Frank Luntz offers insights into finding and using the right words to achieve your goals. The key to communication is to place yourself in the listener's situation and understand his or her deepest thoughts and beliefs. What the listener perceives constitutes the listener's reality.

Based on his experience as a political and corporate pollster he recommends 11 rules for effective communication:

1. Use small words.

2. Use short sentences.

3. Credibility is as important as philosophy.

4. Consistency matters.

5. Novelty: offer something new.

6. Sound and texture matter.

7. Speak aspirationally.

8. Visualize.

9. Ask a question.

10. Provide context and explain relevance.

11. Visual imagery matters.

Luntz does not stop there. In addition to an insightful discussion complete with illustrations from his professional experience of the 11 rules, he adds critical elaboration:

1. Never assume knowledge or awareness.

2. Get the order right.

3. Gender can obstruct understanding.

4. It's about the children.

5. How you define determines how you are received.

If communicating is important to you, and who does not need to, then time spent reading Frank Luntz's book will be well spent. We are all subject to the power of language. Words spell the difference between success and failure. The right words grant you an edge. The author says it all in his subtitle, "It's not what you say--it's what people hear."
131 of 136 people found the following review helpful
Word up! Aug. 23 2008
By Julie Neal - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is masterful in its exploration of the use of language in American life, especially in business and politics. It was written by Dr. Frank Luntz, who calls himself a "linguistic geek." It's ideal for anyone, like me, who loves words and reading.

The subhead to the book is "It's not what you say, it's what people hear." The trick is to speak in a way to make people hear what you want them to hear. To be persuasive. As Luntz writes, "It's not enough to be correct or reasonable or even brilliant." People must first listen, and then understand.

This book gives many comparisons of word choices, and explains why one choice is the most effective. For example, instead of saying "comprehensive," say "easy to understand." "Pre-owned vehicle" sounds much better than "used car." "Housewives" have turned into "stay-at-home moms."

I'm reminded of another book I recently reviewed, Eat This Not That! which shows photos of foods to eat on the left, and comparable foods to avoid on the right. Words That Work could have been called Say This Not That!

Luntz gives a list of ten rules of successful communication that anyone can use:
1. Simplicity: Use Small Words
2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences
3. Credibility is As Important As Philosophy
4. Consistency Matters
5. Novelty: Offer Something New
6. Sound and Texture Matter
7. Speak Aspirationally
8. Visualize
9. Ask a Question
10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Words have such power. They force you to organize your thoughts if you want to connect with other people. When my daughter was in preschool, she was told to "use your words" when she and another child had an angry, emotional disagreement. This strategy worked. It works for grownups, too.

Fortunately, you don't have to share Luntz's politics to benefit from his book. I had to overlook his glee when describing the successful Contract with America in 1994, or how changing "drilling for oil" to the gentler phrase "energy exploration" frustrated "the entire environmental community." He describes Barack Obama's speeches as looking like they were "designed by Benetton." Learning how a wordsmith like Luntz helped usher in policies I disagree with is instructive and valuable.

Here's the chapter list:

1. The Ten Rules of Effective Language
2. Preventing Message Mistakes
3. Old Words, New Meaning
4. How "Words That Work" Are Created
5. Be the Message
6. Words We Remember
7. Corporate Cast Studies
8. Political Case Studies
9. Myths and Realities About Language and People
10. What We REALLY Care About
11. Personal Language for Personal Scenarios
12. Twenty-one Words and Phrases for the Twenty-First Century
13. Conclusion
The Memos
The 2003 California Gubernatorial Recall
The 21 Political Words and Phrases You Should Never Say Again... Plus a Few More
The Clinton Impeachment Language
86 of 91 people found the following review helpful
Do Luntz's Words Work for You? Sept. 7 2008
By John M. Ford - Published on
Format: Paperback
The author resents accusations that his language hides and distorts meaning. "I do not believe there is something dishonorable about presenting a passionately held proposition in the most favorable light, while avoiding the self-sabotage of clumsy phrasing and dubious delivery." He then outlines his ten rules for effective language (Simplicity, Brevity, Credibility, Consistency, Novelty, Sound, Aspiration, Visualization, Asking Questions and Context / Relevance) and spends the rest of the book illustrating their use. Frank Luntz's book makes a good case that these rules are effective.

Several topics are worth reading closely. Luntz describes the "dial session" focus group methods he has devised to elicit and test snippets of effective language. He lays out the linguistic techniques he used to make the Republican "Contract with America" so appealing to voters. Chapter 9 debunks language-related myths the author's research has uncovered. These myths include that Americans are well educated, read a lot, and are generally happy. The truth corresponding to each myth has implications for choosing effective political and advertising language.

Frank Luntz's in-your-face style comes through in his stories--particularly the ones that end with him being thrown out of yet another client meeting. For readers who may be uncomfortable with this style, I'll suggest a brief test. The political and business arenas that contribute the bulk of his examples are far from most readers' experience. But Chapter 11, "Personal Language for Personal Scenarios," is different. It recommends the best language for apologizing, requesting a raise, avoiding a traffic ticket, and other everyday situations. This ten-page chapter is a quick read. You can easily finish it while sitting in one of those comfortable chairs at Borders. If you find value in this chapter, consider reading the rest of the book. If it puts you off, leave the book there on the floor next to the chair.

Readers troubled by Luntz's conservative perspective may want to counterbalance with George Lakoff's book (Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think) on the different metaphors that underlie conservative and progressive thinking. ("Progressive" is Lakoff's own Luntzian rehabilitation of the word "liberal.") Like Luntz, Lakoff uses examples and principles from his professional experience and political beliefs. Both authors are worth reading for what they say about effective use of language. We can learn from them whether we agree with their politics or not.
271 of 306 people found the following review helpful
An Informative Primer for Those Active in the Public Arena Jan. 21 2007
By Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Well, there is certainly something to be said about a book which has generated so many negative comments and "reviews," particularly by those who admit they have not even read "Words That Work." In this review I am not going to discuss the specific contents of the book since that is available elsewhere. I want to focus on some of the criticisms instead.

Frank Luntz, the author of this recent contribution to linguistic empowerment, and who just happens to be one of the more successful contemporary masters of the art of using words to persuade, has evidently touched a sensitive nerve in the brains of those who think that there is something "wrong" or "evil" about the grand old skill of rhetoric. Rhetoric, you say? OK, I realize that most of those educated within our institutions of "higher" learning during the past four decades or so may be suffering from an intellectual disorder called "classical deficiency syndrome" (or CDS), so please allow me to elaborate.

Rhetoric is art turned to the practical purpose of persuading or impressing. It is, in a way, the art of making speeches that count. Learning rhetoric was prized in the ancient Greek democracies as a means to success in public life. Aristotle, that grand master of realistic philosophical thought, inventor of systematic logic, and father of modern empirical science, even wrote a book called "Rhetoric" which contains a fairly systematic discussion of the forms of rhetorical argument. The study of rhetoric was valued by many philosophical schools of the past, and especially by the Stoic philosophers who made it a branch of logic. It was a proper study for philosophers and an absolute necessary for anyone contemplating a career in public life. Those, for instance, who have read the speeches of the great Roman orator Cicero (anyone out there?) will understand and appreciate what's just been said.

The major point of Luntz's book is that "It's not what you say, it's what people hear," and he provides an extensive argument supporting the proposition that, indeed, "words matter" or, at least, the words one chooses to use are as important as the concept or assertion one is attempting to present. His main point could be considered almost a "truism," a trivial sidebar, if it were not for the fact that it is so commonly ignored. He certainly provides ample illustrations in his text to justify his insistence on the importance of his major point, "It's not what you say, it's what people hear." And "what people hear" is at bottom what will persuade them, which is the whole point of the matter. Select your words carefully, utilizing those terms which are most likely to convince your audience to accept your ideas or buy your product or whatever.

Subversion, you say? Manipulation, you charge? Powermongering, you accuse? Please, spare me those ridiculous complaints. Luntz is promoting "persuasion" in his book, that is, intellectually "moving" a person by words and argument in order to convince or induce a belief. Nowhere in his text does he promote any activity that could be remotely considered unethical, deceptive, or disempowering. He is simply saying that some words are better than other words when one is trying to present one's case in a public venue. Big deal! Anyone trained in the classic art of "eristics" knows that the words one uses are every bit as important as facial expression, hand gestures, voice pitch, and so on. ("Eristics"? Oh, sorry about that. For those with CDS, "eristics" is the "art of disputation or debate," something every young educated Greek and Roman male student learned.)

Is Luntz biased, as some critics accuse? Of course he is. I am, too. So is everyone! A "bias" is simply a point of view, a particular stance one takes in regard to anything under consideration. A "bias" and a "prejudice" are not the same thing, contrary to what some people think. If you don't have a "bias" you simply don't have a point of view and most likely are not very interesting for purposes of a discussion. There is no one more boring than a "neutral-thinking" individual who has no "considered" opinion about anything. Note that I'm not talking "mere" opinion here, but an "examined" or "thought-out" opinion. And the words through which or by which we express our opinions, especially when we want to persuade or convince someone of the efficacy of our opinions, are significant. In other words, they matter!

Now, it is well known that Luntz is a Republican pollster and tends to work that side of the aisle politically. This is no secret; he is quite open about this; he is not hiding anything. The specific details, however, of his political or social or economic thinking are unknown to me and not important as far as his book is concerned. Although I realize many political extremists (whether left or right) are loathe to accept it, the messenger is not the same as the message. The rules of logic, the principles of rhetoric, and the strategies of eristics are not "owned" by any political group. It matters not one whit if a book about symbolic logic or mathematical theory, for instance, is written by a left-winger or a right-winger as long as the material within it conforms to truth, consistency, and the generally accepted principles of the discipline.

"Words That Work" is, in my "considered" opinion, a valuable modern contribution to the whole subject of rhetoric (in its classical sense) and I would recommend it as a primer in "persuasion" to anyone involved in politics, social activism, business, or any other activity requiring public speaking or policy-formation. And for those who may suppose that I am a subversive right-winger offering support to a fellow-traveler, let me assure you I am not a neo-conservative, a member of the Republican Party, or a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

You may be assured of one thing, however: before I criticize a book or its author, I read the book first and get to know something about its author and then only for purposes of determining the author's particular "bias." But it is always the book I review and not the author. After all, even the devil can quote Scripture.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Deserves More Recognition Nov. 16 2008
By Burt Reynolds - Published on
Format: Paperback
There are a few reviewers who say that this book is a waste of time because of the author's political views, and emphatically say people should buy some other book. This is an asinine statement. This book is intelligently written, with ample real-world examples from the fields of business, politics, and personal life, and touch upon the current American mind-set and culture. The author's political view should in no way make this book "unreadable." Those who say such things have either not read the book or have absolutely no ability to gain understanding and wisdom from the other perspectives.

Nevertheless, Mr. Luntz has done a considerably good job in articulating words and phrases that influence the American people. Moreover, WHY these words and phrases are influential is also discussed, although at times in-depth analysis is lacking.

Influencing people or making coherent, likable arguments is an incredibly complex task. It's not merely about stage presence. It's not just about the tone and tenor of voice. It's not only about the type of suit the speaker wears. It's not just about the persona. It's all of these elements, and more. Good politicians are separated from GREAT politicians by how they manipulate and transform not only themselves but also their audiences.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan...all of these individuals have some sort of compelling attribute about them that has drawn Americans to vote them into office or bestow upon them hero-status. Mr. Luntz talks about how these people (and others) were able to gain public employment, and become important leaders in the most powerful nation on earth. Certainly is this interesting reading by itself.

But those who wish to understand the nature of persuasion and argument should read this book as a guide. Under no circumstances will this book, by itself, provide all the information necessary to become a good orator or politician. However, it is certainly a good piece of work that highlights some of the best techniques used by successful leaders, and some of the worst as well.

Read this book with an open mind. Do not be dissuaded by Mr. Luntz's political stance, which is irrelevant to the actual content.

More in-depth analysis of why people vote or act in certain ways would have been nice. The print is also smaller than in most books. The writing is sometimes contrived and some sections seem endless. But, overall, it's a worth-while read that deserves 4-stars.