Words Matter – Use Them Carefully

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Readers – I have had the opportunity over the last two weeks to provide training to teams of advisors from large and small firms. I am continually reminded of the importance of what we say, and how we say it. Because of my emphasis on behavioral styles– the tone, inflection, body language and pace people use when communicating – I speak a lot about the delivery and less about the words. These last couple of weeks I was reminded that often times, words do matter and we have to consider how what we say is interpreted and relayed to others.

Here are a few tips to help you communicate most effectively with both team members and clients.

  1. The generational divide is real. Last week I was delivering a team-building session to a group of financial executives. One of the attendees was really stretching in order to participate and add value. He was continually stepping out of his comfort zone and when the leader of the firm asked him to do more, I wanted to pre-empt putting him on the spot. I told the group, “He has shot his wad so we should leave him alone for now.” One of the younger participants was aghast that I had used this inappropriate and risqué term. We had a few laughs about it and we Googled the origin of the term – I always thought it was associated with gamblers who had played their hand and had no money left to play (this association occurred in the 1920s). But the origin dates back to the 1800s and the era of muskets – the “wad” was the cloth piece one put into the musket and may have inadvertently shot out – “you shot your wad.” Turns out, it is also a lewd saying and the young man was right. This doesn’t always occur with inappropriate sayings; it could be a reference to something from the 1970s or 1980s. I once told a colleague he reminded me of Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver and – being 28 years old – he had no idea what in the world I was referring to! So, be aware of what you say and whether you are using terminology that either dates you, or makes it difficult for others to understand what you mean. Advisor Perspectives, for example, does a great job of removing clichés from the articles – remove them from your speech, too. I know I will be doing so. (In case you’re wondering, a cliché is a saying that you can complete if you are told only part of it. For example, you would know how to complete “too many eggs in a…” or “connect the …”)
  1. Turn “me” and “us” language into “they” and “you.” I often talk about the “so what?” in presenting to prospects, clients and team members. When we communicate it’s common to have our own agenda, our own reasons for delivering a particular message. For example, you want a referral from an existing client – you might prepare for the “ask” in doing your pre-call plan for the meeting. You know you need - and want – to ask for who they know and you focus on the language you will use to deliver the “ask.” Translate this into the WIIFM (what’s in it for me/them) and how you can ask for a referral but deliver the message so it is in their best interest, and not yours. To do this, simply ask yourself the “so what” for the receiver. Why should they be interested in giving you the referral? What do they gain by doing so? Take information you need to convey, and reframe it in the context of the person or people getting it from you. How can you hook them and engage them? You can use a grid to do this – put what you usually say on one side, then put what you could say differently to make it meaningful on the other. Practice this often so you become versatile at communicating in this way.