Choose Carefully: Words Matter

To achieve the outcome you want, choose your words carefully and employ these language strategies

November 06, 2015
Choose words carefully when selling and communicating with clients

The words we use to communicate can leave the impression that we’re either knowledgeable about a subject or ignorant. They’re the difference between being understood or not.

To achieve the outcomes we desire, we must choose our words carefully.

Realizing the importance of words was one of the “moments of truth” in my career. It was 1980 and I’d just started selling design/build projects. A recent graduate in architecture, I was 24 years old but looked like I was 16. After enough homeowners asked, “Are you old enough to be doing this?” I realized that if I was going to be successful, I needed to change the impression I was making.

The first thing I did was grow a mustache, but it wasn’t enough to create the impression I needed. So I began experimenting with how I communicated to see if that would improve the perception that, despite my youthful appearance, I knew what I was talking about.

It worked. What I learned is that language has an immediate effect on your listeners. It can boost their confidence in your knowledge or undermine it; remove fear or instill it; reduce stress or increase it. What follows are some language strategies you might try to create the outcome you are looking for.

  • Get technical … but don’t overdo it. Your clients may be smart, but they are ignorant about remodeling. To position yourself as the expert, “sprinkle” your conversation with some technical terms. This may create some confusion at first, but it gives you an opportunity to explain and educate, which reinforces the perception of you as the expert. Terms such as “fascia” or “soffit” or “flitch-plate beam” are commonplace to you, but are exotic and important-sounding to your clients. (My favorite was “fenestration”—it worked every time.) Remember, though, that being too technical can backfire, so don’t overdo it.
  • Use words that reduce fear. Therapists use words that are nonthreatening and calming. They will ask how you “feel” about something or how you are “processing” an experience. You too can choose words that help reduce the anxiety that a remodeling project can induce in your clients. For example, the words “change order” sound scary and authoritarian to some homeowners, so try using the more neutral term “addendum” instead. Similarly, “estimate” sounds uncertain and emphasizes your cost; “budget” is reassuring because it’s about the homeowner’s investment.
  • Use metaphors or analogies. The remodeling process is difficult for some people to understand. Often, using a metaphor can help. For example, if your clients are football fans, you could use the sports metaphor of offense and defense to compare the design and production processes. If they like cars, you may compare the difference in quality or investment in a car with that of a remodeling project.
  • Make communication more visual. During my mustachioed phase, I learned that drawing a simple diagram helped people to more easily understand the design/build process. In the same way, you can use a simple timeline to communicate a schedule, for example, or a pie chart to clearly show how project costs are allocated.
  • Use words correctly. Most of your clients are turned off by poor grammar and misused or mispronounced words. You don’t need to go back to school, but make sure you are using language correctly. PR

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Mark Richardson is a remodeling industry speaker and author of Fit to Growmrichardson@mgrichardson.com

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