Mind Your Language

Power Hour
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At Power Hour, we believe in making small changes, often. The little things do add up and if you only take an hour this week to make a change that will improve your sales, customer service, or employee relations, then spend it thinking about the language that you use.

Briton's (as a rule) aim to please. We hate to let people down we hate to upset anyone and this is reflected in the language that we use. However, sometimes by trying to soften the blow or avoiding disappointment, we can actually be making things worse in the future.

Think about these two responses to a customer request: "I won't be able to do that until next week I'm afraid" versus "I can do that for you next week." Both deliver the same information, but the first sentence plants the idea that next week isn't good enough. The customer is likely to pick up on this, and may try and find someone who can meet their request sooner. The second response is much more positive, it assures the customer that they will be tended to next week.

Alternatively you may be dealing with staff request to take time off at short notice. You may respond by saying "Well that's going to be very difficult and we wouldn't usually allow it. I'll try and find somebody who is willing to swap shifts with you, then it might be possible but I can't promise anything." Or you may respond by saying "I cannot make staff changes at such short notice. Unless you can find somebody to swap shifts with you, I cannot authorise it." In the first case, the staff member may be under the impression that it will be possible. On top of this, they are expecting you to sort the problem out. In the second example, it is clearer that they are unlikely to get their request unless they can solve the problem themselves. 

Successful sales, customer service, and people management so often comes down to effective communication. in this case, the words that we use can have a major impact on the expectations of others. If we manage expectations correctly there will be fewer disappointments, and less problems to sort out. Using positive language focusses on what will happen. Positive language includes words such as will, can, yes, today, absolutely, and so on. Using negative language focusses on what won't happen. Negative language includes words such as no, can't, impossible, won't, and so on. Clearly, people don't like to hear negative language but it is better to use that and raise people's hopes or potentially mislead them.

Neutral language should be avoided wherever possible. Neutral language includes such words as maybe, hopefully, try, might, ideally, and so on. These words mean whatever the listener wants them to mean. We often use neutral language when we are trying to soften the blow, be polite, or cover up our lack of knowledge. In a customer service situation, if you say you will try to do something, the customer will hear that you are going to do something: If you are pitching for business and say that you should be able to do something, the potential clients will hear that you can't.

So if you aren't always getting the results you expect, take time out to think about exactly what you are saying. do you need to sharpen up your communication skills? Is the language you are using creating more problems than it solves?

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