by Tony Vidler
When it comes to the words we use in conversation we all have our own idiosyncracies and quirks of speech, and often do not realise that they can make or break us in business.
The actual words that we use convey emotion, bias, judgement, attitude….all heavily influential aspects in having an impact on whether a client will choose to follow or reject our advice. Those words generally carry more positive and negative implications in the listeners minds than the weight which we we gave to the words.
A simple example of this would be the tendency of professionals to use the word “if” – and I am more guilty than most in this example. Because we do not like to try and guarantee outcomes (and often in professional services we are legally not allowed to do so!) we attempt to qualify a piece of advice by putting parameters around it. Conditions that may have an impact upon the actual recommendation….so we use a word like “if” to ensure those conditions are understood. We say things like “IF your health is acceptable to the underwriters…..”, or “IF the sharemarket continues to perform at the same average level…..” and those qualifying comments are professional and fair enough.
What do the clients hear though?
They hear: “I don’t know if this will work….”
What is their confidence level in the adviser stringing together a bunch of “If’s” during their recommendation? It is decreasing by the “if“…..and so is their likelihood of following our recommendation.
That “If” could end up costing us the client work. Far better for us to use words like “presuming“, “assuming“, “notwithstanding“…or phrases like “on the condition that…” or “all things being equal…” or even “provided all the stars in the universe align“…these are more powerful and helpful because they remove the suggestion which the “if” presents: that YOU may be one of the things that needs to be got right for it to work.
Such words and phrases still allow us to qualify our comments professionally, but without implying that it is incumbent upon US to create the conditions that will lead to a successful outcome for the client.
Similarly, we should replace “could” with “can” or “should” as they convey a far more definitive outcome in a clients mind. We shouldn’t refer to something as being “an issue“, as that is suggestive of a significant and complicated matter which will take a lot to resolve…in fact it may not even be able to be resolved. On the other hand, describing that same something as “a problem” suggests that there is a resolution or a solution to be had. Problems always have solutions don’t they? We all know that…but “issues” are things the world grapples with and can’t figure out. It is all about perception, and the impression being formed in the clients mind about your ability to deliver the desired outcome.
Referring to a piece of business as a “contract” tends to send shivers down clients spines…nobody likes contracts. They are full of small print and escape clauses for the person offering the contract aren’t they? An “agreement” is a whole different thing in clients minds though, isn’t it? A “membership certificate” or “certificate of cover” are far more positive and denote benefits to the recipient. That is definitely more appealing to most consumers than a “contract“.
There are many many more examples of everyday language which we use and understand, and which convey precise information as far as we are concerned, but which mean something different or create doubt and uncertainty in a clients mind. To be more successful as a practitioner requires us to continually hone our delivery skills to ensure that we are positively and ethically influencing clients to do what is best for them, and that means being aware of the perceptions – both positive and negative – which we can create through the actual words we use to explain concepts or make recommendations.
The specific words we use can actually make or break a sale. They can make the difference between helping a client or not. Choose them deliberately, and wisely.