In this edition of ISHN’s Ezine, we look at the power of words to influence actions and attitudes. Specifically, we draw on lessons presented by Joe Sommerville, Ph. D., author of the new book, “Rainmaking Secrets Made Simple,” a guide to making effective presentations.

By the way, many of the lessons here apply to both verbal and written communications.



Sommerville offers these three basic tips:

  • Words cannot be taken back once uttered. They won’t be forgotten. So become more mindful of your word choices.

  • As Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” wrote in his 1989 book, seek first to listen, to understand.

Too often we listen on auto-pilot, says Sommerville. We develop habitual conditioned responses to questions that prevent conversations from becoming relationship-builders.

For example: “How are you?” “Fine.” “How are you?” “Never better.” “What have you been doing lately?” “Nothing really.”

Teenagers, you might have noticed, are quite adept at these auto-responses. The habit starts early.

It’s up to you to break through what Sommerville calls these “Pavlovian responses” or generic small talk by probing more deeply. “How are you?” “Busy, busy.” “Well, what are you working on?” “Usual stuff.” “What’s that?”

Persevere and you develop a more productive conversation.

  • Stick to the two-minute rule, except when giving training presentations, etc. Keep your talk to less than two minutes, says Sommerville.

In other words, curb your enthusiasm.

Create pauses, allow for a little silence, to prompt responses. Then listen. Sommerville says listening is quite simply the most important tool of networking.



Somerville uses the acronym PEAK to summarize the essentials of using the language of influence. In fact, he is president of Peak Communication Performance ( in Houston, and he can be contacted at

P — Provide Believability

Gravel-throated singer/songwriter/poet Tom Waits has said, “The big print giveth and the small print taketh away,” according to Sommerville.

The asterisk, says Sommerville, takes away from your credibility. Don’t pepper your talk with asterisks — caveats, policies, restrictions, etc.

Test out testimonials for their believability, says Sommerville. Testimonials by injured employees or nearly injured workers are a staple of safety meetings. Make sure they don’t sound too much like an advertisement for what you’re trying to accomplish (say PPE compliance). Or that they are not over-the-top exaggerations. Such testimonials will not come across as credible.

E — Eliminate Credibility Killers

  • Use correct grammar.

  • Stay away from sayings such as, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this…”

  • You come off as not being discrete, someone not to be trusted.

    “Let me be honest with you” can sound as though honesty is the exception when you communicate, not the rule, says Sommerville.

  • Avoid clichés. “At the end of the day we need to have an off-line conversation out of the box and no holds barred in order to return to our core competencies and transparent values.”

  • Don’t use words that undercut your authority. Consider the word, “competency,” for example. Do you want to be associated with mere competence, which can border incompetence, or do you want to be seen as an expert, with expertise, not mere competence?

  • And don’t undermine your authority and credibility by saying something like, “I don’t know why they asked me to speak to you this morning…” Either you really don’t know what you’re talking about, or your audience will see right through your false humility.

  • Don’t use absolutes — words such as “never” or “always.” When you use these blanket generalizations, you shut down your audience’s receptivity to what you’re saying. Instead, they expend their mental energy on finding the exceptions to what you’re saying, according to Sommerville.

A — Ask Why

“Why?” constitutes one of the most powerful questions you can pose in a conversation, says Sommerville. “Why do you believe the company is not serious about safety?” “Why do you think that is true?”

The “why” question, asked without intimidation, will surface hidden beliefs and perceptions.

It’s a very good question to ask when you are faced with objections and/or resistance, says Sommerville. “Why do you think we need this new safety initiative?” “Why do you think we’re having PPE compliance problems?”

Ask “why” and you’ll uncover true barriers, says Sommerville.

K — Know What You Want to Accomplish

With the ample amount of information you’ve gathered, plus your expertise and experience, what to you want to accomplish in a meeting or coaching session or presentation?

Be clear in your own mind, and to your audience, what the goal of this particular communication exercise is. Don’t overemphasize a bunch of talking point at the expense of clearly communicating your goal or purpose, says Sommerville.

State your objective early, refer to it in your presentation perhaps, and repeat it in your conclusion.

But don’t come on too strong in pushing your objective. Think of the over-aggressive salesman on a new or used car lot. “What will it take to get your business today?” “I can tell you want to drive home a new car tonight.”

This tact will put your audience on the defensive more likely than not, says Sommerville.

The same goes for attempting to influence or persuade through arrogance, ego or pride. “This is why you are wrong.” “Let me tell you the way it really is.”

Ask yourself before beginning a presentation or conversation, “Is this topic an issue worth digging in and battling over? What’s at stake? How much give-and-take, or compromise, can I permit and still influence the outcome I desire?”


Written by Dave Johnson,ISHN Editor. Dave can be reached at