Choose your words wisely


“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 possible.”

“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 answer?”

“I should have this done by sometimes 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 you?”

“Well, to be honest…”

This one really hurts. It’s really 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.” When we hear it, it could mean that something good is going to turn into something bad; for example, “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 they communicate 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 form.”

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.