By: Robert Finder, a special to Overdrive and the author of THE FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL’S GUIDE TO COMMUNICATION
Whether you’re engaged in a casual conversation with a client or making a formal sales presentation, nothing is more annoying, irritating, and distracting to your audience than the incessant uttering of non-words. Non-words go by many names: “verbal disinfluencies,” “oral graffiti,” “word parsley,” but the latter is disrespectful to parsley for while parsley is not a dietary staple, at least a thoughtful and considerate chef may use it to make the presentation of a special dish look good. Unceasing barrages of non-words, however, serve no useful purpose and make your presentations difficult to swallow.
I’m not concerned about the occasional usage of a non-word. It’s unavoidable and no big deal unless you allow non-words to become one. A single ant won’t ruin your picnic, but then again, when did you see a single ant at a picnic?
“Ah,” “Um,” “And, um” and their undistinguished progeny are nothing more than noise. Purposeless bursts of sound—unpleasant to the ear—and all too predictable. You see them coming before you hear them, and you know more, plenty more, will follow. Linguists may be able to crack the meaning of ancient and dead languages, but they have only been able to hypothesize that these vocal sensations are associated with a lack of preparation, indecision, nervousness, or disregard for others.
“Really” and “honestly” are poor attempts to instill candor and truthfulness. The more you use these, the more your client is going to wonder if you’re “really” sure what you’re saying. And is there any reason clients should expect anything but the truth from you? “Really” is also used emphasize a subject or a statement, but the effect is weak.
“What I really want to do”
“What we really do for our clients”
“Our advice model really offers”
“We really embrace open architecture”
“We really, really want to focus on”
In each of the above examples, simply eliminate the word “really” and use vocal inflection for emphasis.
“A little bit” suggests you’re not that interested in what your clients have to say or you’re holding back. Your intention may be that you don’t want to burden your clients with the responsibility to give you a long, lengthy explanation of something, or that you don’t want to belabor a point that you want to make, but your intention can be lost in perception—the perception that you’re not interested in your clients or the perception that your clients only deserve “a little” of what you have to offer.
“Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
“Tell me a little bit about how you feel.”
“Let me tell you a little bit about the firm.”
“I’ve done a little bit of homework.”
“I’m a little bit concerned.”
“I’d like to talk a little bit about…”
“As you know,” its derivative “you know,” and its relative “as you can see” are a lazy professional’s non-words. They are ill-advised phrases that irritate clients because they “don’t know,” which is the primary reason they’re seeking your services. Of course, they are too polite to tell you they “don’t know.” It’s your job to explain what you want them to know in plain, simple English, no technical jargon. Explain exactly what they’re looking at when you use handouts or visual aids. Don’t say, “As you can see on the chart.” They haven’t the faintest clue what they’re looking at. This is your chance to be your clients’ teacher. They’re your eager and willing students. Teach.
“Okay?” “All right?” It’s good idea to periodically check-in with your clients to make sure they’re on the same page with you. But it can get annoying if these words punctuate virtually every statement or point the speaker makes leaving the client to wonder, “Doesn’t he think I’m capable of understanding this?” And therein lies the problem. You don’t want your clients thinking about hidden meaning and innuendo, you want them focusing on your message.
“Tweak”is a wimpy non-word. You may advise adjusting, modifying, or rebalancing a client’s plans, but tweak? Your clients pay you to “tweak?”
“Et cetera” is the “make your clients do the work” non-word. Why should you take the trouble to give meaningful examples or illustrations to support your message? It’s much more fun to see if they can come up with the “miscellaneous unspecified objects” (or “things”) that you had in mind, but decided not to share.
“Never ask me about my business.” How ridiculous. You love talking about the business. But are you in the same business as Don Corleone or Michael or Sonny Corleone? I listen with dismay as professionals tell clients all the reasons they “got in the business” (not to mention how the word “got” grates on me). Funny, we want to be treated with the same respect as physicians, lawyers, professors, and other professionals, but you don’t hear them talking about themselves being in the medicine business, or the law business, or the teaching business.
Robert Finder is the author of THE FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL’S GUIDE TO COMMUNICATION. He is Managing Director for a national financial services firm, working closely with leading financial professionals to develop wealth management solutions for high net worth individuals, institutions, foundations, and retirement funds. Finder was previously SVP and Executive Director of Wealth Management Solutions at Prudential Investments where he also served as National Sales Manager for the Managed Accounts Consulting Group, President and Chief Executive Officer of Johnson Heritage Trust Company in Racine, WI, and Landmark Trust Company in St. Louis. He holds Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) and Certified Investment Strategist (CIS) designations, and a J.D. and LL.M. in Taxation from Washington University School of Law. He is based in St. Louis, MO.