How to use the Power of Ultimate Terms for Change

Social Psychology is of great use for everybody that is about to plan a Change. Therefore I decided to start a new series that features some thoughts on Social Psychology and its concepts and theories. This time I want to talk about “Ultimate Terms” that can be used for god or bad…

There are words which have special meaning within each culture and carry power where they are used.

  • God terms carry blessings, demand sacrifice and obedience. E.g. progress, value
  • Devil terms are reviled and evoke disgust. E.g. fascist, pedophile
  • Charismatic Terms are not like God and Devil terms, which are associated with observable things. These terms are more intangible. E.g. freedom, contribution

These terms can change, and God or Charisma terms that are over-used can turn into Devil terms. They are also sometimes called power words, especially by sales people. Words used in sales often appeal to basic needs, such as:

  • Safety: guarantee, proven
  • Control: powerful, strong
  • Understanding: because, as, so, truth, real
  • Greed: money, cash, save, win, free, more
  • Health: safe, healthy, well
  • Belonging: belong, happy, good, feel
  • Esteem: exclusive, only, admired
  • Identity: you, (their name), we
  • Novelty: new, discover

Negative words are also used in this context to scare people into action.
These often address those self-same needs, but now from the opposite direction:

  • Safety: dangerous,
  • Control: uncertain, scarce
  • Understanding: change, complicated
  • Greed: lose, stolen
  • Health: unhealthy, sick, old
  • Belonging: wrong, alone, rejected
  • Esteem: ridicule, laughed at
  • Identity: they, he
  • Novelty: outdated, unfashionable

‘Quality’ was a God term in many companies during the TQM era of the early 1990s. Then it became a Devil term as those companies got it wrong and needed to blame something.

Using it
Know the terms, and employ them well. Misuse them at your peril. There are many crass advertisements that beat ultimate terms to death. To be effective, they must be subtle, and done with a light touch. If the listener/reader realizes what you are trying to do, not only will this take the effectiveness out of the words, it will also cause a negative reaction.

Listen to the use of ultimate terms. Where people are abusing them, let them know you know. If necessary, expose their trickery.

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