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Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear Paperback – August 5, 2008
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
This book should be a textbook used in a course offered in any communications curriculum.
If is important to read these books not because you want to persuade and influence others; it is important to read Luntz's Words that Work, and other books like Lakoff's if you want to know and understand the ways in which others may be trying to persuade *you*.
The greatest disservice to the general public has been denying it an education in rhetoric, without which we are far more susceptible to its abuses, and unable to responsibly use it to aid us and our communities.
Read Words that Work and see what sort of rhetorical appeals are made of you, and how you can better command and lead your own fortunes, and choose the influences to want to listen to, or not.