Hearing “yes” in any type of situation — with colleagues and customers — is largely about appealing to the other person’s enlightened self-interest. One of my favorite ways to effectively do that is through the use of language, specifically a figure of speech called “chiasmus” [kahy-az-muhs].

A chiasmus is a verbal pattern in which the second half of a phrase is balanced against the first, with key elements being reversed. While you may not be familiar with the term, chances are you’ve encountered it.

For example, even the most challenged high school U.S. history student has more than likely heard references to John F. Kennedy’s iconic 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Or, if you’re a fan of advertising jingles, there’s this one: “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” (Not as profound as JFK, but memorable nonetheless.)

And, of course, there’s “Live to ride, ride to live.”

Want to improve the likelihood of a co-worker getting on board with your initiative? Use a chiasmus:

Steve, it isn’t so much what you can do for this project – although that’s substantial. You really need to consider what the project can do for you.”

Here’s why that approach is so effective: What you’re really “selling” is transformation. You’re showing Steve how, by participating in an initiative, he’s actually signing up for an improved skill set, greater visibility in the company and perhaps a starring role in a career-making project.

In a sales situation, a customer might be considering ways in which he can trick out a new ride. If that’s the case, try out this chiasmus:

“It’s not what you can do to the bike; it’s what the bike can do to you.” 

These figures of speech work because they appeal to the other person’s enlightened self-interest – potentially creating a more open-minded buyer or a more skilled and more respected colleague.

The sooner you wrap you head around this concept, the better off you’ll be.