Consider some of the lines that you use in your day to day business conversations. Phrases such as “Please let me know when we can speak more about this…”, “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today!”, “I look forward to working with you.” Sound familiar? Most recently, these were my “go to” phrases when interacting with colleagues, prospects and clients, especially through email.
As humans and specifically those with the XX chromosome, we have been conditioned to always mind our “p’s and q’s” and please and thank you are a natural part of who we are. And let’s be honest, when we’re trying to negotiate, sell a new idea, or navigate conflict in some way, we think that having manners and using exclamation points or smiley faces to show our excitement make us seem less pushy, and more likeable. The exclamation points are not the issue, rather, they do a great job of visualizing a distinct difference in male and female written communication.
Scientific research suggests that women focus more on likability in the business setting, and therefore, it plays out in our communication style. Think about the written communications you receive from your male counterparts, and compare them to your female counterparts (as well as yourself), I bet you see a difference in approach? Unfortunately, this is often related back to differences in how women and men lead.
In the book “Barking Up a Dead Horse: Avoiding the Wasted Time and Effort in Business-to-Business Sales,” Tom Batchelder doesn’t distinguish between the leadership of men and women, he focuses more on how influencers such as those in leadership or sales positions, stop communicating this way. By using these phrases and putting them in our emails we place ourselves in a “one down” position. What this means is that we are not leading the conversation. What we are doing is putting ourselves in a perceived position of weakness, or “not good enough,” and that all too familiar, “she is just happy to get the opportunity to win the business.”
Mr. Batchelder goes further to say he believes there are things we do and say that harm our ability to attract the “right kind” of outcomes. We need to use a language that puts us in a position of equality with our counterparts. In doing this, it allows us to ask the right questions leading us to decide if our approach, idea, or expertise can fix the issue at hand. He believes that by holding this position it will allow us to influence more by not selling, pushing, or assuming.
In reflecting upon Mr. Batchelder’s point, I have quickly acknowledged, I have been leaning on a “pushing” communication style, and making assumptions on the needs of my clients and colleagues without asking questions.
My standard “I look forward to speaking with you” makes the assumption that I believe we are going to have a conversation and therefore pushes or guilt trips the person on the other end to call me back. What this means is that the person I am looking to influence and motivate towards a certain outcome, may dismiss my communication because no one wants to be pushed or guilt tripped.
So how do you put yourself in a position of equality when negotiating, influencing and selling ideas? Tom Batchelder suggests the following five "don’t's" to consider:
- Thank you + Thank you for your time.
- Emotional Words (i.e. “love,” “excited,” or exclamation points [!])
- Assuming that they are going to call you back (i.e. not giving them an out and using phrases like “if you are open to it…”)
- No clear next step.
Focus on clear, concise statements that communicate what you want and why. With our mounting inbox and short attention spans, people don’t want to feel like they are being “sold.” The focus shifts to allowing the recipient the opportunity to “buy in” to your idea and/or meeting with you. The language Mr. Batchelder suggests that we use might seem counterintuitive to how we’ve learned how to get the “buy-in” in the past, however, he believes asking the question of the person as to whether they are to speaking with you, and using words like “might” does not make you appear weak, it sets the state for a conversation
“Barking Up a Dead Horse” has given me a new perspective in how I communicate. I have a stronger understanding of how language positions me as an influential leader. Here are some tips and tricks I am implementing in my day to day which may help to get you started in developing your personal style:
- Slow down, be clear, talk like a human being
- Disarm up front
- Quickly get to the point, be clear and specific about why you’re calling or asking for a meeting
- Disarm them again, making no assumptions that they are interested or that any of this information is relevant
- Have a clear next step
- Let them know you are OK either way (i.e. if they are open to talk further, or not)
I realize this shift is going to be difficult for me to not to use my “p’s and q’s” and exclamation points, and I won’t necessarily be telling my mother all about my new email style. However, I do believe everything in Mr. Batchelder’s book makes a lot of sense for the future of equality in communications in sales and leadership. If you haven’t yet, try implementing these suggestions in your daily communication. I would love to hear how these have impacted your leadership effectiveness and ability to “sell” yourself!
Adriana Puente is an Associate of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm. Adriana specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by business owners to implement succession strategies geared towards building business value.For additional information, visit www.rawlsgroup.com or call 407-578-4455