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Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 224 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1401302597
ISBN-10: 1401302599
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After repeating his mantra—"it's not what you say, it's what people hear"—so often in this book, you'd think that Republican pollster Luntz would have taken his own advice to heart. Yet in spite of an opening anecdote that superficially attempts a balanced tone, the book as a whole truly reads more like a manual for right-wing positioning. Even in the sections where he is less partisan, Luntz's advice is not particularly insightful. For instance, his first chapter, on "Ten Rules of Effective Language," starts by instructing readers to use small words and short sentences in their communications. The least effective section in the book is the chapter on "Personal Language for Personal Scenarios," where Luntz advocates manipulative strategies for getting out of traffic tickets, boarding airplanes at the last minute and apologizing to one's wife with the "miracle elixir" of flowers. The most readable and redeeming feature is the two case studies, where Luntz demonstrates his skill as a communicator by identifying real-world communications successes and failures. Unfortunately, by the time nonpartisan readers reach these chapters, they will have already lost patience. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Words That Work deserves an attentive read. Mr. Luntz offers a fair amount of good advice to anyone who must communicate publicly--most important, "be the message." By this he means that if you want to talk the talk and be believed, you must walk the walk--which is to say, you must mean what you say and act on it. Integrity sells.

"As the book develops, Mr. Luntz's "words that work" turn out to be portals for his clients to think hard about what they and their opponents stand for and how to align their positions more closely with what their audiences actually care about. This isn't hocus-pocus. It's just the result of hard work, careful thought and empathy--the staples of all intelligent public discourse."

-- Wall Street Journal

"Dr. Luntz, you are a freaking genius. The book is called Words That Work and you're always right." -- Chris Matthews

"Few political consultants can boast as many strings to their bow at such a young age as Frank Luntz. When he was barely in his thirties, the Republican wordsmith played a critical role in devising the Contract With America, which helped Newt Gingrich's Republican party win control of both houses of Congress for the first time in more than a generation....

"It is a fair bet that Luntz will play an influential role in the 2008 election, possibly in service of his old friend the former mayor of New York.

"Words That Work is Luntz's attempt to distil what he insists is his intrinsically honourable profession between two covers. To a large extent it works. Even where Luntz is protesting a bit too loudly - that negative attacks on political opponents rarely work, for example, and that, by implication, Luntz has never been involved in such skulduggery - he is always readable.

"Part lexicographic memoir, part self-help book, Words That Work shines when the accent is on the former. It is hard to think of any other political consultant in America who has coined as many effective slogans as Luntz. Some, such as his branding of the estate, or inheritance, tax as the "death tax", have remoulded conventional wisdom with devastating effect on their principally Democratic defenders.

"Others have crept into common usage less dramatically but just as effectively. Take "exploring for energy" instead of "drilling for oil", "tax relief" in place of "tax cuts", or "not giving" emergency hospital care to "illegal aliens" instead of "denying" it to "undocumented workers". Words, or rather the slicing and dicing of them to fashion our subliminal responses, do work, particularly when tried and tested in Luntz's two-hour "dial sessions", where volunteers convey their responses by turning a dial up or down in reaction to what they are seeing and hearing.

"Luntz has produced a fine book that teaches us a great deal about politics in today's America and about the minutely analysed mindset of the electorate. That Luntz's words are effective there can be little doubt." -- Financial Times

"Frank Luntz understands the power of words to move public opinion and communicate big ideas." -- Senator John Kerry

"If you can't afford to hire Frank Luntz, you have to read Words that Work." -- Steve Wynn

"One of the nation's leading pollsters and political language specialists." -- Washington Post.com

"The pollster has a long track record of identifying the phrases that make or break political and corporate campaigns . . ." -- The (London) Sunday Telegraph

"a MUST read!" -- Tony Robbins


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 1 edition (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401302599
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401302597
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (224 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julie Neal VINE VOICE on August 23, 2008
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.
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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.
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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.
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