Get those “Buts” out of your mouth! Six “Power Talking” tips that will strengthen your communication, inspire cooperation, and build your personal brand

Since 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 pro’s 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.

communication with customers

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?

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.”

communication by replace but with and

This may seem superfluous, but if you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, 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 up 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.

 

communication on the phone

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 you use in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating these negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

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    9 Responses to Get those “Buts” out of your mouth! Six “Power Talking” tips that will strengthen your communication, inspire cooperation, and build your personal brand

    1. Paul Guyon June 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      Bill, well done! I agree the word “BUT” really does undo any good that may have been said prior to its utterance. It’s also important to note how important and powerful the spoken WORD really is. What we say can be uplifting or degrading to another person, especially children. Sometimes we have no idea the impact we are making on others. Carefully chosen words indeed!

      • billmarshjr June 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

        Well said, Paul. You’re right. The words we use when speaking into
        others’ lives–especially those closest to us–have a tremendous impact.
        As Jack Jensen said in the film, Make it Matter, “Don’t be someone who
        loves to talk…be someone who has something to say.”

    2. billmarshjr June 5, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

      Well said, Paul. You’re right. The words we use when speaking into others’ lives–especially those closest to us–have a tremendous impact. As Jack Jensen said in the film, Make it Matter, “Don’t be someone who loves to talk…be someone who has something to say.”

    3. Terry Winship June 6, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

      I think the word “actually,” like “basically” is another one of those filler words.
      Thanks for this post, Bill! It is a great reminder to me that I often just get lazy in my everyday speaking. I am going to get those “buts” out of my mouth!

      • billmarshjr June 7, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

        Thanks, Terry. The real struggle with filler words is they so easily become ingrained in our language. I have a close friend who annoyingly injects “you know” into virtually every sentence. Despite repeated attempts to stop, he continues to struggle with it.

    4. Al Balko June 7, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Excellent blog and tips to take action on. An excellent book to supplement this topic with is “Get A Grip on Your Lip” by Beth Jones. Life and death are in the power of the tongue!

      • billmarshjr June 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

        I am not familiar with this book, Al. Thanks for suggesting. Other than George Walther’s “Power Talking: 50 Ways to say what you mean…and get what you want” I have not come across any other resources on this subject. I look forward to reading it!

    5. Jim McManus June 26, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      Bill:

      Great article! Growing up my Dad (an educator and political activist) would always tell me….”Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”
      It’s amazing how many people don’t understand this. Some of the smartest people I know have the hardest time communicating to others. and it’s amazing how many times we hear the word, “But”….
      Another word I always listen for is “think” versus “know”. So many times the word “think” inter-relates with an opinion. Whereas the word, “know”, is definative and grounded. For example, someone might say “I think the reason your car is sputtering because of “X, Y and Z. I prefer to listen to the guy (or gal) in the room who uses the word “know”. For example, “Your car is sputtering. I will have a technician diagnose your car and call you when we know we’ve identified problem and discuss your options”. Saying it the first was makes you wonder if the “experts” really know what they’re talking about. Saying it the latter way tells you that they will own your problem and find a solution.

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    1. Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers » Bill Marsh Jr - July 3, 2013

      […] reviews call center transcripts to pinpoint words and phrases that trigger negative reactions. (See my recent blog post on Power Talking) such as “can’t, won’t, and don’t”, and coaches reps to replace them […]

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