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Getting what you want is frequently a function of language. This sounds like a bold statement, but this is the reason companies invest so much time and energy developing what to say and what not to say to customers. The outcome of salary negotiations, business opportunities, and client acquisition is often a function of the way we communicate. I have trained people to use communication plans to get what they want because often it’s not the information that’s presented that informs the outcome, but rather how we deliver that information.

Say What?

Even lower stakes business conversations could use some thought. Let’s take the phrase, “can I pick your brain?” When you ask this question people read that phrase as, “Can you give me valuable information for free?” I often think that if I said yes to everyone who requested to “pick my brain” I would have the IQ of a raisin. What if instead of asking if you could pick someone’s brain (which sounds not at all beneficial to the picked and only beneficial to the picker) you asked a different question? What if you said, “I am incredibly impressed with your insight and would love to take you to lunch and spend a bit of time with you.” I once had a guy at a conference ask, “Ann Marie how would you like to do something for free that you normally get paid a lot of money to do?” The honesty and humor of this took me by surprise and I did give him my time. Partly, because there was no bullshit and I happen to appreciate that in people. The two alternative approaches are vastly different, but substantially superior to “picking my brain.”

Another phrase that KILLS me is, “I would like to share an opportunity with you.” This is right up there with, “if I could show you a way (fill in the blank).” These questions do not elevate your professionalism, in fact quite the opposite. The very structure of these questions infers manipulation. If you’re going to use the phrase, “I would like to share an opportunity with you” then you better have a referral for me and not be asking me to buy something from you or sell something for you. It’s deceptive and you’re just going to piss me off. Don’t use any form of communication that attempts to dupe people – it may work now and again, but most of the time you’ll tarnish your brand and damage relationships.

If you want to move people, expand your opportunities and elevate your standard of professionalism, examine how you communicate and when the stakes are high, plan what you’re going to say. At the heart of every relationship we build is language. Communicate with more clarity, sincerity and purpose and you might get more of what you want more of the time.

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