Why your words may brand you a liar

Want people to believe your words? Use specific, concrete, detailed language.

Want to be perceived as untrustworthy or a liar? Use jargon and abstract language.

The advice we give in our presentation skills workshops is reinforced by a new survey out of New York and Basel, Switzerland.

Researchers from universities in the two cities found that concrete language is the key to being believed.

Psychology researcher Jeremy Dean takes up the theme in his PsyBlog. He writes: “Abstract words are handy for talking conceptually but they leave a lot of wiggle-room.

“Concrete words refer to something in the real world and they refer to it precisely. Vanilla ice-cream is specific while dessert could refer to anything sweet eaten after a main meal.”

Dean offers three explanations for why concrete beats abstract:

  • Our minds process concrete statements more quickly, and we automatically associate quick and easy with true.
  • We can create mental pictures of concrete statements more easily. When something is easier to picture, it’s easier to recall, so seems more true.
  • When something is more easily pictured it seems more plausible, so it is more readily believed.

Details and concrete language help us ‘see’ an idea, and that image is fast-tracked to the bits of the brain that control believing and understanding.

So help your audience. Use words that paint pictures.

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