New research shows that the language we use can inspire people to work together or be more selfish. That’s an important finding when it comes to organizational teamwork. After all, the need for collective action comes up again and again in the workplace.

A study published in Rationality and Society found that cooperation and communication are the keys to improved collaboration, according to Magda Osman, Agata Ludwiczak, Devyani Sharma and Zoe Adams of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

While it might be disappointing to realize that others might not cooperate when sacrificing for the public good, it turns out that strong communication helps group members size up the intentions of the others and gives them a chance to persuade their peers to act cooperatively.

The study also suggests that avoiding phrases that indicate hedging and equivocation helps people cooperate. Being vague about the extent of your intended contribution (I’ll give more next time”) and offering conditional contributions (“I’ll give more if everyone else does”) will foster mistrust within your group and reduce people’s sense of obligation. Ultimately, this will hinder the group’s ability to reach an agreement to cooperate.

A better approach is to be explicit and specific with the promises you make about your contribution. It’s also important to pose a direct question to the entire group which asks about everyone’s intended contribution. This encourages each member to make a commitment, and if someone evades the question, it’s a useful signal.

The communication styles we use can also make a difference. Speaking in a way that signals solidarity and authority will strengthen the group’s collective identity and establish a norm to cooperate. Humor and warmth help, too. On the other hand, groups that used more formal and self-interested communication styles, such as those associated with the world of business and politics, were less cooperative.

In short, showing strong leadership through assertive statements, expressing encouragement through motivational phrases, and making people feel part of your group are good first steps in getting others to cooperate.