Power Talking: Get Those “Buts” Out Of Your Mouth

I’m always looking for new customer service training ideas. Whenever I’m out in the marketplace–in restaurants, retail stores, community events, etc.–I’ve got my radar on for real life examples (both good and bad) that I can use for future sessions. And one of the simple behavior patterns I’ve noticed that separates exceptional customer service practitioners from their mediocre counterparts is vocabulary.

True customer service pros are what I call “power talkers.” They deliberately refrain from using weak, indecisive words and phrases and instead respond to customers with language that injects clarity, focus, and positive expectations into their conversations.

Words have power | Power talking

For example, consider how one simple, everyday word can weaken communication:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon, BUT we won’t have it done until tomorrow.”

“We received your request BUT the person who handles your account isn’t here today.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, BUT his computer skills are weak.”

Notice how the word “but” negates everything that was said before it. This weak word saps all the energy from the conversation. How many times have you heard, “Yes, but…” and felt deflated knowing that your idea or comment is about to get a rebuttal?

Words have power | Power talking

A more powerful and energetic alternative is to replace the word “but” with “and.” Notice how it changes things:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon AND we will have that for you by noon tomorrow.”

“We received your request AND I will have the person who handles your account call you when she returns tomorrow.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, AND he is developing his computer skills.”

If you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, delivering exceptional customer service, and continually sharpening your leadership skills, the words you use matter. “Power Talking” is based on this simple but powerful truth: The words we use shape the outcomes we create in serving customers–and in everyday life.

Try it: I guarantee these simple changes in language will add substance and impact to the perceptions you create.

“Power Talking” is based on three principles of human communication:

1. People judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases you use in your everyday communication. Consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

2. The people you want to influence–your customers, co-workers, children, etc.–take cues from your language when deciding whether or not they will cooperate with you. While some words or phrases unconsciously sabotage our efforts to work with other people, others are extremely effective.

3. The words you use when talking to and about yourself help to shape your own self-image and they translate to your actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of each of these principles from my own experiences:

At a recent auto retailing conference, one of the presenters–a successful car dealer–opened by saying, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not much of a public speaker.” Can you guess how his presentation went? It was awful.

Overhearing a phone call from an employee to a late-paying customer, she said, “I was wondering if you could send in your payment sometime soon.” A better way to get cooperation would be to simply ask, “When may I expect your payment?”

Responding to a “When will my car be done?” inquiry from an anxious customer, a service advisor said, “It should be done sometime tomorrow afternoon.” Instead of projecting such an unclear expectation, a better response would have been: “It will be done by 3pm tomorrow.” (Then have it done by noon and exceed the customer’s expectations.)

Although each of these examples seem simple, becoming a “power talker” is not easy. Years of cultural conditioning can weaken our diction, corrupt our clarity, and suck the life blood out of our communication.

Words have power | Power talking

Finally, together with “But,” here are five more popular powerless words and phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary:

1. Try. Known as “the king of wimpy,” try carries with it no commitment at all. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Try, no. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Instead, be clear…and be firm. Candor and honesty will go much farther to build trust with your customer than “trying” ever will.

2. Have to. In customer service, saying “I’ll have to…” implies that serving your customer is going to be a burden, as in “I’ll have to check the availability and call you back.” Replace this negative line with the hospitable phrase, “I’ll be glad to…”

3. Basically. Together with “like,” “you know,” “well,” and a host of others, “basically” is what I call a “filler word” that serves no purpose; eliminate it–just say what you plan to say.

4. To be honest with you. When you hear this from someone, doesn’t it make you wonder, “Does this mean he is usually not honest?” Remove it–and simply say what you’re planning to say.

5. Should. When someone in customer service tells you, “I should have it done by…” how confident are you in such a weak commitment? Be decisive–say, “I will have it done by…” then over-deliver on your promise.

Remember, people judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases used in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will welcome people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

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What a Record Setting Cyclist Can Teach Us About Achievement

Ever since I started doing Crossfit several years ago, I’ve been drawn to stories of people who lean into physical challenges, from super- intense workouts (Crossfit calls them “Hero WOD’s”) to the achievements of differently abled athletes and others with physical limitations who push themselves beyond what they thought was possible.

Of all the amazing stories out there, 24-year old Amanda Coker‘s recent cycling milestone blew me away.

Amanda averaged 237 miles per day on her bike (12 hours of constant riding) for 365 days–from May 14, 2016 to May 15, 2017–on a seven-mile loop in Flatwoods Wilderness Park in Thonotosassa, Florida to set a new world record for most miles biked in one year…86,573 miles.

To put that into perspective, a good amateur cyclist rides 300 – 600 miles a month. The best ride 800 -1000 miles a month. Then there’s Amanda: She averaged 237.1 miles a day–that’s 7,211 miles a month–for 12 consecutive months. That defies the limits of performance.

The previous women’s record was 29,603 and the men’s was 76,076 miles. Not only did she nearly triple the previous women’s world record of 29,603 but she also blew away the men’s record by well over 10,000 miles!

During this grueling 52-week journey, here are just a few examples of what Amanda overcame:
– Temperatures ranging from 27 to 114 degrees.
– Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine and Tropical Storm Colin plus floods and lightning.
– Just 5 – 7 hours of sleep per night.
– 6,000 – 6,500 calories burned per day.

In addition, Amanda suffered road rash from run-ins with rogue riders, saddles sores she would “rather not discuss in detail,” and consistent skepticism from the endurance athlete community who doubted such a feat was even possible.

The Bigger Question: Why?

After discovering cycling as a teenager, Amanda began racing, placing 6th in the junior national championships in 2010. A year later, while riding with her father near their home in North Carolina, she was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous other injuries. Unable to attend school or work, Amanda began to withdraw from life, suffering from anxiety and depression as she faced an uncertain future. Then, in 2015, sensing the need to break what had become a pattern of lethargy and self-pity, she decided to get back on the bike.

At the urging of friends and a record-breaking cyclist named Kurt Searvogel, (the men’s world record holder) she set her mind–and her body–to the seemingly impossible task of 365 straight days of cycling.

The sheer tenacity she displayed in logging hundreds of miles day after day not only strengthened Amanda’s sense of purpose and resolve, it inspired others to push beyond their own self-imposed limitations as well. In fact, so many riders who showed up at Flatwoods Park to ride with Amanda have set their own personal records that they created a large poster with the names of the “100 and 200 mile club” to document their achievements.

Granted, most of us will never accomplish anything physically close to Amanda’s remarkable achievement, but there’s a lot that we can learn from her grueling and gritty journey. Here are three that stand out to me:

1) There is virtually nothing you face that is insurmountable. For years, no one thought it was possible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. (Some medical experts said it was impossible–that the cardiovascular system could not process oxygen fast enough through the bloodstream). Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister changed the world’s thinking–and within a few years numerous other athletes duplicated the feat. Like the 4 minute mile, Amanda’s feat should convince us all that we are capable of so much more than the comforts of modern life cause us to settle for. If a 24 year old woman who nearly died a few years before can summon the mental and physical toughness to endure 12 hours a day in 90 degree heat on her bike, what excuse could we possibly make not to commit a fraction of the time and effort to strengthen our minds and bodies?

2) The power of why. I can only imagine how often Amanda was tempted to give up, but the searing memory of her life-altering accident (her father was also seriously injured) created a sense of purpose so strong that nothing–not even two of the strongest Florida hurricanes in a decade–could stop her. Instead of giving into bitterness, Amanda instead channeled her emotions into a burning desire to rise above her setback, bringing many others along with her. In her popular TED Talk, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, neuroscientist Angela Duckworth explains that the more people can see meaning in their work that extends beyond their own personal interests, the higher their level of passion, persistence, and achievement.

3) Routine rules. As author and peak performance expert James Clear notes, the most successful people in any field don’t point to their passion or motivation in reaching their goals. Instead, most learn how to, as Clear puts it, “fall in love with boredom.” Consider the monotony Amanda must have experienced as she endlessly circled the 7-mile Flatwoods loop–34 laps a day– for 365 consecutive days, 12 hours a day. It’s almost incomprehensible to me. But it makes a compelling point: Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, but only a tiny fraction of people have the tenacity to embrace the discipline of continuous and deliberate practice.

I realize that, to some, devoting a year of your life to riding a bike for 12 hours a day is, at best, misguided and, at worse, pure insanity. But in a society increasingly dominated by personal comfort, self-gratification, and nearly constant distraction, Amanda’s journey is a fitting reminder of what’s possible when we commit ourselves to a single purpose.

It reminds me of a profound piece of advice Eleanor Roosevelt once gave to a graduating class: “Do something every day that scares you.” In other words, resist the constant pull towards passivity and the urge to settle. Instead, lean into your discomfort and develop the habit of spending time at the edge of your comfort zone.

Have you ever attempted a physically demanding challenge such as a marathon, bike race or a fitness competition? What would it mean to the quality of your life to challenge yourself–physically, mentally, socially or spiritually? Feel free to leave a comment–I’d love to hear your feedback.

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How to Live to 100: Nine Healthy Blue Zone Habits

They’re known as the Blue Zones: Areas around the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100+ years old). These Blue Zone areas include parts of Japan, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, and even Southern California.

In 2005, author Dan Buettner launched a research project seeking to learn the longevity secrets of these vibrant cultures which culminated in the 2008 publication of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Although I haven’t read the book, Buettner’s research has been well documented. His work is a fascinating summary of what makes the world’s healthiest people so healthy.

Despite the fact that people live longer today than ever before, let’s face it: Most of us know very few people who make it even close to 100 years old, much less any full-fledged centenarians. Yet Buettner’s work features people like Francesca Castillo of Costa Rica, who, at 100 years old, still cut her own wood and cleared brush from her yard with a machete.

What sets centenarians apart? Is it purely genetics, or are there specific practices we can identify and adopt to help us increase our own life spans? Here are nine habits which, according to Buettner, centenarians throughout the world’s Blue Zones all share:

People who live in Blue Zones walk... a lot.

1. Walk…a lot. This reminds me of the best selling book, Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath, who points out that sitting more than six hours a day is the most underrated public health problem in America. According to Buettner, Blue Zoners walk practically all day, not because they necessarily want to, but because most of them don’t own a car. While that’s not an option for most people, (something that, in my line of work, I’m grateful for!) Buettner recommends finding a place to live that favors activity and connectivity.

2. Don’t retire. Refocus. Blue Zoners all share a deep sense of purpose for their lives. They greet each day with a compelling reason to live. The traditional definition of “retirement” simply doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

3. Find a de-stressing ritual. Although faced with the same worries we all have, centenarians manage stress through a variety of daily rituals, such as spending time with friends.

4. Follow the 80% Rule. In the age of super-sized portions, centenarians only eat and drink until they feel 80% full.

5. Eat lots of vegetables. In the Blue Zones, the least expensive and most popular dishes are plant-based. Most eat limited amounts of meat and very little refined sugar and carbohydrates.

6. Drink a little wine. Contrary to popular belief, centenarians, by and large, are not teetotalers, although most drink limited amounts and wine is the drink of choice.

7. Cultivate strong friendships. Blue Zoners are consistently found to have a core group of life long friends who provide stability, intimacy, and support.

8. Be part of a community. There is a strong sense of belonging in Blue Zones; a deep-seated cultural expectation of people caring for one another, often centered around religious faith.

9. Stay married. According to Buettner, a positive, committed relationship adds at least six years to life expectancy.

Here’s a question: What would it mean to the quality of your life–and the strength of your personal brand–if you had the physical, mental, and spiritual capacity to live 100+ years? Which of these nine habits resonate the most with you? Which ones challenge you? I’d love to hear your feedback!

This post was adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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Six Lifestyle Changes You Can Make This Summer

If you live in a place where there are four seasons, the onset of summer brings a welcome change of pace. We go on vacation, spend more time outdoors, hang out with friends and, in general, have more time for reflection and recalibration.

And if your summer reflections include elevating your health and fitness, here are six simple improvements that, based on personal experience, will enhance your energy, improve your well-being, and help you feel more alive and present regardless of the season.

Six Lifestyle Changes You Can Make This Summer

1. Spend more time standing than sitting. In one of my previous posts, I shared some of the growing research linking sitting with increased risks of cancer as well as heart disease, depression, and premature death. Despite the plethora of exercise and other recreation options out there, most of us still spend too much time on our butts–so much so that some health experts have coined the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking.” This summer, be deliberate about spending more of your day standing than you do sitting. From getting a stand up desk to tracking your steps through a fitness app on your phone, spending even an hour or so more on your feet can have a huge impact on your health, especially as you age.

2. Clean up your sleep hygiene. Like sitting, the research on the health implications of sleep are enormous. Over the last several decades, the average amount of sleep has steadily declined (it is currently around 6 1/2 hours). Although digital distractions play a part, the biggest contributor is the myth of sacrificing sleep for productivity. Many people, especially leaders, view sleeping more than 6 hours as being a luxury verses a necessity; for others, the lack of a consistent sleep ritual makes it hard for them to fall asleep after a busy, demanding day. Regardless, if you struggle with sleep, take some deliberate steps this summer to examine your sleep hygiene and create a consistent habit of getting to sleep and waking up at the same time.

3. Breathe through your nose. Sure, the idea of improving your breathing sounds overly simplistic. Yet research once again shows that the majority of Americans have poor breathing habits. The most common bad breathing habit, breathing too much through the mouth, leads to shallow over-breathing, which reduces carbon dioxide levels, causes poor circulation, narrows airways, and builds up toxins in the bloodstream. Committing to a daily practice of deep breathing through your nose stimulates the release of nitric oxide which opens up blood vessels and sterilizes the air in your sinuses, among many other benefits. For a simple, stimulating breathing exercise, revisit this previous post.

4. Eat nutrient dense foods. Together with sleep and stress level, what you eat has the biggest impact on your health and well-being. Unfortunately, much of what the average American consumes today has little resemblance to real food, which is part of why we’re so crippled by chronic disease. The good news is, even small changes in your diet can have a dramatic impact on your wellness, especially if your food choices include nutrient dense foods. In a previous post, I reported on four superfoods that, based on volumes of nutrition research, have a dramatic impact not only on your health, but on your energy as well. Commit to incorporating just one of these nutrient dense foods into your daily diet and watch your energy soar.

5. Avoid sugar. According to research, American’s consumption of sugar has reached staggering levels, explaining why chronic disease is so prevalent despite volumes of information and billions of dollars spent on health care in this country. Consider this: The amount of sugar contained in one can of soda is, by some estimates, more than our 18th century ancestors consumed in an entire year! What’s more, volumes of research has shown that sugar is addictive; the cravings caused by sugar are the similar to those induced by nicotine or cocaine. Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and nearly every known source of chronic disease. And it’s everywhere–just check the ingredient labels on salad dressings, Gatorade, peanut butter and many other unsuspecting food sources. For a complete guide to quitting sugar that also includes inspiring testimonials and practical strategies, check out Sarah Wilson’s blog, I Quit Sugar.

6. Smile more. Like breathing, the act of smiling seems too simple, too reflexive to have any impact on our health. But surprising research has shown otherwise. A 2010 Wayne State University study, for example, found a direct connection between the length of the smiles of pre-1950’s baseball players (on their baseball cards) and their life spans. Those who smiled brightly in their photos lived an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t smile. Similarly, British researchers postulated that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate. The problems is that, while children smile as many as 400 times a day, by the time they reach adulthood, many report smiling less than 14 times a day, providing other unsuspecting inroads to chronic disease: depression and low energy.

Today, the amount of choices we have in what we consume and how we spend our time is far beyond what our ancestors could have ever imagined. But, as the wise saying goes, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Failing to make good choices for our health can have serious consequences, which is why following these six simple strategies can add years to your life… and life to your years!

Questions: Which one of these resonate with you the most? Why do you think that is? What are some other strategies you have employed to improve your health and well being? I’d love to hear your feedback!

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