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Watch Your Language

September 4, 2019

Watch Your Language

Remember that saying, “Watch Your Language” or “Don’t say that!”? Adults say this to kids when they use inappropriate language. This was the negative response invoked when we cursed, when we told the truth but insulted someone, or just said the wrong thing in certain situations. Remember, “Mommy, why is that lady so fat?”…”Ewww, your dress is ugly.” or “This tastes bad.”?

Fast forward to adulthood…do we ever outgrow this advice? No, we don’t. As professionals, we should always “watch our language” when speaking and when writing. Top performers, in our experience, always carefully choose the right words and rarely invoke a negative response. Here are some examples, for managers, supervisors, salespeople, service providers and job seekers, of how our words may be offensive or inappropriate to specific situations.

Managers and Supervisors

As a manager or supervisor, you are a role model and your employees model your behavior and the words you use. If you don’t “watch your language”, your employees won’t either. Your employees create “tool kits” of skills, behaviors, words and actions to use in different situations. Managers and supervisors influence what goes in this tool kit. Sometimes, what goes in is a helpful tool, like the ability to empathize with customers when a situation is frustrating. Sometimes what goes in is not helpful, like when a manager reams out an employee in front of other employees.

Imagine this…your employee expresses a concern about a colleague’s behavior. The behavior makes your employee feel uncomfortable. You don’t think it is a big deal and respond by saying, “There is nothing I can do about that. It is not a big deal and she is in another department so I can’t reprimand her.”  The following week, this same employee asks you for an update on a request he made to senior management. You respond, “They never tell me anything.”

The next day, one of your customers calls and complains about a mistake that he thinks your company made. This same employee investigates the concern and learns that the mistake is actually the customer’s. Which of the following statements might your employee think is the most appropriate for the situation?

  • “It’s not our fault.”
  • “I am sorry this is causing frustration. Let me see what I can do to help.

Most likely, the employee will use the first statement over the second one. And, unfortunately, it will invoke a negative response because it is implying that the employee doesn’t care and will not take responsibility.  The second statement invokes a positive responses because it shows the employee is taking ownership. However, since the manager has not role modeled the second type of statement, the employee doesn’t have it readily available in his “tool kit”.


In sales, words are almost as powerful as actual products, and in some cases, when two competitor’s products are the same, words are more critical.

Here is a situation reflective of what I have seen too many times when coaching sales people.

A salesperson, who we will call Jo, is meeting with a prospect that used a competitor in the past. Jo is familiar with the competitor and in the beginning of the conversation says, “Wow, I have heard they really overcharge their clients.” The prospect agrees that their pricing is higher than Jo’s but says that the quality is always top notch. During the rest of the sales call, Jo makes remarks like, “Did they tell you they use sub-contractors?”…”When you call, do they answer the phone directly?”…”They are really known for sub-standard work.”

Now Jo may be thinking that these statements will invoke a positive response in terms of getting the prospect to realize that Jo’s company is better than the competition. However, how does saying just one of these statements make the prospect feel? Who is Jo actually criticizing? Jo is criticizing the prospect’s decision-making process and intelligence.

If you or your salespeople don’t “watch your language”, you could send your prospect back to the competition. And, to make matters worse, they will tell the competition all the negative feedback you shared.

Internal or External Service Provider

Everyone has customers. Some are internal and some are external. Regardless, everyone deserves excellent service and that service needs to be perceived and defined as excellent by the customer – not by the service provider. Always watch your language when speaking to your customers. Here are my favorite examples of phrases that invoke negative responses.

“Are you sure?” – My husband and I were shopping and bought an office chair. The cashier asked us if we wanted to buy the purchase protection plan. My husband said no thank you and the cashier said, “Are you sure?” My husband’s body language stiffened up and his tone changed and he said, “Yes, I am sure.” The cashier then said, “But…” and my husband immediately cut him off.

What happened here? The cashier (and we know he was trained to say this) insulted my husband’s decision making process and intelligence by asking if he was sure. The statement implies that the customer does not have full capability of figuring things out on his own.

“Oh, I don’t know.” ( And then nothing more after this.) I called the help desk of one of the “cloud” programs I use. I needed help in figuring out how to complete a task. I also needed to figure out why a process I set up wasn’t working properly. I asked the representative what he thought was wrong. He said, “Hmmm, I don’t know.” And then nothing. So I asked, “Well what if…”. He responded, “That might work.” At this point, I don’t understand why this department was called “Help Desk”. So far, he hadn’t helped me with anything. So I asked, “Can you find someone who knows the answer?” His response…you guessed it, “I don’t know.”

I don’t even think that this last scenario needs explaining.

Job or Promotion Seekers

Every word counts in an interview, especially in this competitive job market and troubled economy. In some industries, a job posting receives 100’s of application.  Always “watch your language.” When interviewing. How do job seekers slip up? Here are some examples.

#1 –        Interviewer: Why do you want to leave your job?

Candidate: They don’t appreciate what I have to offer…My manager is a creep…They got me so p#*%&ed off. ..They promoted someone who was younger and cheaper.

#2 –        Interviewer:  So tell me about yourself.

Candidate: Well, it has been a rough time looking for a job. Ya know how it is.

#3 –        Interviewer: Do you have any questions?

Candidate: No…How soon can I take vacation? Do you guys offer dental?

Each one of these responses is almost guaranteed to result in a negative response.

In summary, in all situations at work or with personal relationships, choose the right words carefully and always focus on invoking a positive response.


For more information about how Taylor Performance Solutions can help you or your team “watch your language”, call us at (800) 610-8170 or email