So, I am driving my daughter to a friend’s house and she says something that makes me realize kids are a absolute masters in the art of marketing and persuasion.
It was all in the way she framed what she said.
“Daddy,” she shared, “ice cream got on the seat.” Until that moment, I never knew ice cream actually had the ability to do anything. Now I learn it not only has the power to be eaten, but to jump up and get onto things.
Contrast this with an earliier conversation we had about her art, where she revealed not that a beautiful painting “got drawn,” but that “she” drew this gorgeous vision with oil pastels. What am I getting at here? It’s subtle, yet powerful.
One of the most powerful tools in guiding a discussion, be it marketing or negotiation is tense-shifting.
Consciously choosing to associate specific tenses with either benefits or detriments. The tense I am talking about are subjective (personal), objective (impersonal), past and present. The example above is about the effect of shifting between subjective and objective tenses.
Use the subjective to associate
When you want to make a feature, benefit, detriment or action more relevant or impactful, you personalize it, convey it using the subjective tense. You put it into the experience of the person listening or reading. You associate it with that person, like my daughter did with her art. She wanted to be associated with the benefit and accolades of being a great artist, so she stepped into the role and used subjective language. She took credit for it.
Objectify to dissociate
When you want to raise certain negative issues or detriments, however, but minimize their impact, you use language that takes them out of the reader’s personal experience, objective language like “the” ice cream and you may even take it a step further, giving inanimate objects seemingly human abilities to “act” in an effort to remove yourself from being associated with that negative outcome or trait.
Seven year olds figure this out pretty quickly and dial it in.
But somehow, along the way, our rational grown-up minds move us back toward strict narration when we describe situations later in life. Being aware of the impact of tense-shifting, though, allows you to better position certain facts and circumstances when presenting an advertising or marketing message, communicating with colleagues or adversaries or conveying information that requires an element of persuasion.
Little linguistic techniques, like this, bring you closer to your desired outcome.
But, what about the effect of past/present tense-shifting? I’ll share some thoughts on that in an upcoming post.
So, I am curious, who else has noticed this type of patterning, either in their kids or day to day life?
And, an even bigger question, while these linguistic patterns seem pretty natural and harmless coming from the mouths of kids, is there any ethical issue with tapping a knowledge of linquistic patterning in a later life or professional setting in an effort to help accomplish a goal?
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