"Let’s go out for a hamburger," is an invitation you might get for a
lunch meeting. However, how would you react if someone asked you, "How
about eating some ground up cow on a bun?" The second thought is a
little less appetizing.
Proper word choice is something we need to be aware of in business
communications. It can be the difference between encouraging your
clients to do more business and pushing them away. I know when I call
with a complaint and hear, "Ms. Nierenberg, I’ll see what I can do," I
begin to think, "I’ll see you later because I’m going to your
competitor." When we don’t have the answer right away, that’s no excuse
for ambiguous responses to clients. Our word choices need to be precise.
To make better word choices, take a look at the example phrases below and the more effective alternates:
- "I’ll try to make it to the meeting." Forget it. That expression
gives a negative reading on the commitment scale. A more precise
statement would be, "I will be there at 8 a.m. and will call in case
something comes up."
- "I can’t do that." If that’s true, what other challenges
will you be afraid to take on? Instead, say, "Let me tell you what is
- "I wonder if you would give me an answer?" Wondering is
something you do when you have time to stare at the stars all night.
You’ll make more progress when you ask, "Which day can you give me an
- "I should have this done by sometime next week." We need to
be respectful of other people’s deadlines. It would be better to say,
"I will have this done by a week from tomorrow. How does that work for
- "Well, to be honest…" This one really hurts. It’s really
a just a filler, so leave it out and get to the point. When someone
tells me that they’re being honest with me, I immediately wonder if
that means they aren’t always sincere.
One of the biggest problem words is "but." Whenever we hear it, it
could mean that something good is going to turn into something bad. "We
can make your deadlines as scheduled, but it’s our peak season and
there may be delays." Now, do you think the customer knows for sure
that your company will deliver on time? No, because they heard the word
"but" and a big red flag went up. Instead say, "We plan on meeting your
deadlines. Of course, if we anticipate any delay, we’ll let you know in
advance in case we need to change the shipping method." This is honest
and it creates a more positive connection with the customer.
Also, words like "don’t" should be avoided because it communicates
negativity. Here’s a question that seems harmless, "Why don’t we meet
next week?" It would be much better to say, "Let’s meet on Thursday",
because it’s positive and specific. Another negative expression that
can be modified is, "Don’t forget to send me your order form." A more
effective expression would be, "Please remember to send me the order
When you speak to your clients, communicate in ways to move your
agenda in a positive, forward direction. Choosing the wrong words
creates speed bumps; all they do is slow down the process of meeting
your customers’ needs.