Tip of the Week: It’s How You Say It

It’s not always – in fact frequently not at all – what you say, but how you say it.

I got thinking about this the other day, and how much difference it makes in the way you may feel about the people you could buy products or services from. And more to the point, how our prospects, customers, and clients might feel about us, as people they could buy from, or hire.bentNail150

  • 1.      First, ask yourself how this person – especially if he or she is a prospect, customer, or client – wants to communicate with you. By phone, by fax, by text, by email, person-to-person? I recently telephoned two professional services providers, accepting their proposals, and requesting a start date. Neither returned my phone calls. When I texted them some days later, I had answers back from each in a matter of minutes, where voice mails had gone unanswered.
  • 2.      Second, the order of the words you say it in makes a difference. After you’ve selected the medium, focus on your purpose, and start with that in the first paragraph. In the above example, had the purpose of a text message, or a subsequent email been to apologize, that would be the place to start. If the focus of the communication were to move on and get the job done, that would be the place to start.
  • 3.      Third, examine the words and phrases you use to say it in. For example, compare these two sentences:
  • a. Can’t you tell whether the nail’s defect was caused by improper handling during the manufacturing process?
  • b. Can you tell whether the nail’s defect was caused by improper handling during the manufacturing process?

The dangerous duo here are the words “Can’t,” and “Can.”

 It’s a matter of tone – the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. Does it seem to you that the word “Can’t,” in this example, sets up a confrontational tone? Do you almost expect the words “you dummy” to either precede “Can’t,” or maybe end the sentence? If this sentence were addressed to you, would you feel challenged, like you had to defend yourself and explain why you could, or could not, “tell”?

In contrast, how do you feel about “Can”? Does “Can” have more of a teamwork feel to it? Which of the two sentences would make you feel more a part of the team working together to find the solution?

Just as a side note: There are also punctuation issues common to both of these sentences that will make a big difference in what your sentence says. If you said

 Can you tell whether the nail’s defect was caused by improper handling during the manufacturing process?

 In this case, “nail’s” would mean one nail with one defect. But if you said

 Can you tell whether the nails’ defect was caused by improper handling during the manufacturing process?

 In this case, “nails’” would mean more than one nail – millions, even, with the same, one defect. Serious stuff! But even more serious, what if you said

Can you tell whether the nails’ defects were caused by improper handling during the manufacturing process?

 In this case, we have multiple nails with multiple defects. What a difference that little apostrophe can make.

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We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting.

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi, Gail,

    Always enjoy your Tip of the Week even though I don’t respond often.
    Yes, that little apostrophe can make a huge difference when used incorrectly.

    Barbara G.

  2. Thanks, Barbara! It certainly can make a huge difference.


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