IF THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, words are bullets. They can also be roses, calming stressful situations, pacifying anger or just maintaining the status quo in potentially volatile situations. This is because many words, but not all, are linked to emotion. Take the word ‘holiday’, for example. Does it elicit a positive feeling, or one that is negative?
Take the word ‘holiday’, for example. Does it elicit a positive feeling, or one that is negative?
And three words that are common in every day conversation, but which pack a lot of positive firepower when used strategically are ‘and’, ‘before’, and ‘if’. On their own, they do not elicit bubbles of positivity. But when used to replace other words, or slipped into sentences, ‘and’, ‘before’, and ‘if’ can stealthily maintain harmony.
And’s evil twin is ‘but’. ‘But’ injects itself into sentences, creating immediate tension. No amount of positive preamble will be able to mitigate the negative affect a subsequent ‘but’ creates. Take a look at these three sentences, for example:
“You did a wonderful job today, but…”
“I was impressed by your presentation, but…”
“I understand what you are trying to say, but…”
The first six to eight words of each sentence become irrelevant with the arrival of ‘but’. Smiles turn to frowns, and it doesn’t matter how much sugar coating is added. A ‘but’ is a verbal slap in the face.
But replace the ‘but’ with an ‘and’, and the tension doesn’t appear:
“You did a wonderful job today, and…”
“I was impressed by your presentation, and…”
“I understand what you are trying to say, and…”
A ‘but’ is a verbal slap in the face.
Aside from a word switch, the use of ‘and’ requires a constructive, rather than just negative, follow up. Take a look at the contrasting sentences:
“You did a wonderful job today, but you were late submitting the report”, versus “You did a wonderful job today, and for future submissions please finish by 5 pm.”
Advising that the deadline is 5 pm is useful. Simply telling someone that they are “late” is not. ‘And’ takes the edge off feedback sessions, reframes mistakes into an opportunity to improve, and maintains harmony.
‘Before’ is even more subtle than ‘and’. But rather than replace a word, it is added to stealthily relax the recipient, much like a journalist can relax a politician with the expression, “off the record.”
“Before we get stuck into the negotiation, how’s work?”
“Before we begin the formal part of the performance appraisal, tell me how the year went?”
“Before we look at your team’s performance, how have you been?”
The word ‘before’ reduces stress since the subject feels that the formal section of the discussion has not yet started – like the calm before the storm. But in reality, the discussion has really begun – often unbeknown to the subject. And, as a result of their relaxed demeanour a lot more can be learnt from the subject as they let their guard down.
‘If’ also behaves like ‘before’, in that it reduces the pressure. The addition of an ‘if’ to a questions instantly makes it a hypothetical, and therefore there is no pressure to give a right or wrong answer. Again, like the “off the record” expression. However, that doesn’t change the relevance of that question and the subsequent answer. It just feels less stressful to the subject.
“If you were to choose my firm, which month are you thinking of initiating the project?”
“If you chose me to fulfil this role, who do you see being my greatest challenge in the workplace?”
“If we decided to buy your service, what sort of discounts would be allowable?”
There should be a slight pause after the ‘if’ to ensure that the subject understands that this question is in no way a binding contract. The demeanour of the one asking the question should also be relaxed.
‘And’, ‘before’ and ‘if’ are not impressive words on their own, but when inserted with purpose they can be extremely affective in reducing tension and overcoming objection. These words are as useful for managers dealing with internal matters, as they are when being used to influence sales and procurement professionals. ‘And’ just remember that ‘before’ you do start to use these words, remember that ‘if’ they work in securing a multimillion dollar deal, I look forward to receiving a hefty commission. Good luck!