Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Subtle Way to Appear More Powerful at Work

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Ever wonder how certain people seem to exude power? Like the CEO of your company or the best manager you’ve ever worked for—they just have a presence that makes everyone around them feel inspired and ready for action. It can sometimes feel as though there’s a secret they all know but aren’t sharing.

It turns out that these kinds of people are likely using a very specific communication tactic whether they realize it or not—speaking vaguely.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Pyschology led by Cheryl Wakslak, people who use more abstract language rather than specific details are likely to appear more powerful. In an article by The Science of Us, she shares why:

Wakslak explained in an email that abstract language makes you seem like someone who’s willing to make judgment calls, which in turn makes you seem like you know what you’re talking about. “People see the abstract communicator as a more ‘big picture’ kind of person, and this leads them to seeming more powerful,” she said.

While the study was focused on politicians, these findings can absolutely be used to your advantage in the office. Next time you’re trying to seem a little extra powerful when speaking, think about how you can more broadly explain the facts you’re presenting. For instance:

  • Instead Of: “The sales team increased profits by 22% this month versus 14% last month.”
    Try: “This month, the sales team out-performed its wins from June and continues to drive the company forward with a huge amount of sales.”
  • Instead Of: “Facebook is a global brand that has offices in New York, Vancouver, New Delhi, Sydney, London, Stockholm, Toronto, San Francisco, and more.”
    Try: “Facebook has completely dominated the social media global stage by strategically planting itself on nearly every continent in the world.”

There are certainly circumstances when diving into the actual data is important. But even in those cases, think about how you can start with the abstract picture, and then use your data to back up what you’re saying. This will show that you’re not just spitting out the facts, but also thinking about how they matter.

Moral of the story? Focus on making your message accessible and applicable to whoever is listening. The more vague your language, the easier it is for everyone to latch on and feel included, ultimately making you stand out as the person worth listening to.

Photo of man with megaphone courtesy of Shutterstock.