Here’s something I’d like you to think about. According to most of the social psychology we know, especially the work of Albert Bandura, one word can make a critically important difference.

In an experiment performed by Bandura, subjects were asked to give electric shocks to quiz-takers who they couldn’t see, whenever a quiz-taker got a wrong answer. The subject (or, who I like to call – the Zapper!) would be able to decide when and how severe a shock to give.

After getting some instruction on the use of the shock button, one of Bandura’s assistants would mention something in front of the Zappers.

The control group heard, “The subjects from the other school are here.”
The positive-bias group heard, “The subjects from the other school are here. They seem nice.”
The negative-bias group heard, “The subjects from the other school are here. They seem like animals.”

Guess what happened next? Those party animals for their asses zapped off compared to the neutral group, while the nice folks got zapped significantly less than the neutral group.

Great, so aside from being really nice to research assistants the next time you participate in an experiment, what can we learn from this? I’ll answer that question with a question:

When you see a skankily dressed girl, the first word that probably comes to mind is “Slut!” or, alternately, “Hoebag!” What if, instead, you switched that word to: “Daughter” or “Sister”? I didn’t use “Mother” here because the jump from Slut to MILF is a pretty short one.

If you’re like most people, the negative connotation goes away – she’s not “asking for it”, instead, she’s just unfortunately dressed. It shifts away from anger, jealousy, or disgust (maybe all three) and straight to empathy for a girl who’s over-compensating, sympathy for her parents and her siblings, and remorse that you probably can’t say anything to help her.

That’s the power of positioning. You just removed that walking fashion nightmare away from an unsympathetic, inhuman bias (WHORE!) to something you could readily identify with: your sister, your daughter, whatever. I’m not picking on the ladies here, either – gentlemen do this too: dumb jock, gym monkey, manwhore, whatever. Right?

Now, I want you to play a different game – word association. Think about your business. What does the word Client mean? How about Customer?

Chances are, you said one of the following: Work, Support, Service, Complaints, or – and this is what most people say – Cash.

When a person interested in doing business walks through your door – you don’t see a person. You see dollar signs. And that’s fucked up.

So what can be done about this? The same thing we just did for the skanky hoebags.

What if you stopped calling them customers or clients – what if you called them Friends instead? Unless you’re an anti-social douchebag, you like your friends. And you don’t see dollar signs, in fact – you give them a lot more leeway than any other human (and perhaps even your family) gets.

How would your business change if you just switched up one word?