What Not to Say: 7 Phrases to Avoid with Clients

Change your words and you’ll change your results. Here’s a list of weak phrases to stay away from, along with more powerful alternatives.

November 1, 2006

Words are powerful things. When speaking with prospects, clients, and colleagues, your choice of words and phrases shapes their perception of you; it tells them if you can get the job done effectively and responsibly.

However, many people don’t realize they have a habit of using weak phrases that undermine their professional image. Some of these phrases are: “I should,” “I want,” “I need,” “I have to,” and “I don’t know.”

These phrases imply that you’re giving up control and accountability and are placing it on someone or something else. Consider using these more powerful phrases instead: “I am,” “I choose to,” “I can,” “I will find out,” and “I’ll create.” A subtle change in word choice puts you back in control and allows you to regain ownership of the outcome.

The next time you’re talking to a client, pause for a moment to listen to the language you’re using — are you subconsciously putting a negative spin on the situation and giving them a reason to doubt you? Or are you demonstrating that you can get the job done professionally and effectively?

Here are seven phrases that that can negatively affect the outcome of your conversations, along with some better alternatives. By paying close attention to the words you choose, you're taking control of your relationship with clients.

Phrase 1: “Here’s the Problem”

Your clients don’t want to hear about a problem associated with selling or buying their home; they’d rather know what you’re going to do to solve it. Instead, use words like challenge> or opportunity. These words imply action, as in “Here’s our challenge — we need to fix up this house on a small budget! Let’s talk about where to start.”

Phrase 2: “I’ll Try”

This phrase is laden with doubt. It gives the impression that you’ve already concluded that you will not be able to help them. Instead, consider using I will. If you aren’t positive that you can deliver on the promise, explain what you’ll do to achieve the goal. Then provide a few paths you will take as an alternative approach, if necessary.

Phrase 3: “But”

This word is often an “I can’t” in disguise. For instance: “We’ll market your property at this price but I can’t guarantee it will sell.” Instead, use the word and, as in “I will market your property at this price for four weeks and if we don’t receive any offers, I’m going to ask you for a price adjustment.”

Phrase 4: “You Should”

This phrase kills marriages as well as sales. Down deep, you may want to say, “You should paint the exterior and remove all of these dead shrubs,” but instead consider ways to rephrase it so that you're creating a sense of empowerment. This is a better way to phrase it: “If we paint the exterior of the house and work a bit on the landscaping, we'll be in a better position to increase the asking price.”

Phrase 5: “You Have To”

As in, “You have to list at this price if you want to get any activity." Phrases such as this one often make people mad simply because it takes away their sense of control. Instead, say “You can position this property anywhere in the market that fits your needs, remembering that homes sell faster at one price compared with another.”

Phrase 6: “It’s Not My Fault”

This phrase is a quiet killer. Odds are good that you don’t say it out loud to your clients, but even when you think it they can hear you. If something goes wrong, forget whose fault it is. Instead, focus on a solution by affirming “I am in complete control of the outcome and responsible for what I do next.”

Phrase 7: “No Problem”

Sounds harmless, right? Not so fast. I’ve always believed that you should never answer someone’s request with “no problem.” It implies that the request could have been a problem, or that it was almost a problem. Indirectly, the phrase can evoke negative emotions, whether you meant it or not. Instead, try answering with a simple It’s my pleasure.

Simple But True

Some of these ideas may seem rather simple. The good news is, they are! It's really just a matter of understanding that the subtlest changes in your choice of words can produce the biggest wins. With a little practice, I'm confident that you will begin to see how a few subtle word changes can have a remarkable impact on your success.