How to Amp up Your Business Lingo Game

This week we open the kimono, peel back the layers of the onion, and have a value-added discussion about lingo. (ok, I think I need to kick my own ass now.)

Enough about douchey buzzwords. If you’re interested, I wrote in excess of 3000 words on this last week. You can find it here.

Related article: The Douchey-est Buzzwords in Business Today


What about lingo that actually gets you attention? What are phrases that you can add to your vernacular to competently convey your ideas, and recruit people to your way of thinking?

There were a few years in my career in which I had stepped away from consulting altogether, in order to help my husband build his financial advisory practice. Long story short, I had to learn to sell insurance.

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I had never sold anything prior to this, let alone  sexy products such as insurance and investments. I had to get acquainted with the entire sales industry, pronto. Our ability to make our mortgage payments depended on it. Our marriage depended on it. Fortunately, the sales training industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and I didn’t have to go far to find some pretty awesome training material. I put myself through a hardcore boot camp and learned me some good ol’ sales skills. After a couple years, Lawrence and I decided that it was probably in our best interest to co-exist in harmony as partners in marriage, instead of partners in business. So, I made my second appearance in the consulting industry. What I discovered, though, was that those skills for which I forked out thousands of dollars in personal development training and sales techniques stuck with me. As I applied them to the professional world of consulting, working with my clients in the business world, I saw everything with a whole new set of eyes.

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It’s Universal

I can appreciate that if you’re friends with me on Facebook, or however you came to read this post, you may or may not be in IT, or in a large corporate setting. Well, I have something amazing to share with you. These words and techniques can be applied each and every situation in your life, be it in business, with your kids, your students, or your spouse. Trust me. I have first-hand experience to how universal this is. Being married to a sales guy, I constantly get closed on stuff. I get cluelessly put through the sales cycle, only realizing it after the credit card bill comes in. Gahh!!

Slight look of shock

Non-lingo Related Techniques

This week, let’s focus on star power phrases. There is a whole other world of non-lingo related sales techniques on which we can capitalize. It deserves a dedicated article within itself. When you were look back at any of these posts for reference, and I hope you do, you really need to apply the lingo AND the intangible techniques together to maximize the punch. Once written, I will make a reference to it here so that you know where to go. In the meantime…

Scary Words

Scary Words

In the world of sales, there are many authorities in sales training. Tom Hopkins is one of the most revered over the last 30 years. I was fortunate enough to take some sales training directly from the man himself.

I remember as the course first started, everyone was given a token. Tom covered the first lesson, where we identified certain words that would downright instill fear in your prospects, which is sales lingo for ‘potential client.’ In the business world, it could translate to anyone from an actual potential client, to a key stakeholder in which you require approval something. Throughout the very intense weekend, there was a constant game going on. Whenever you used any of these scary, nasty words, the person who busted you would get your token. At the end of the weekend, the people with the most tokens would get a prize. Part of the fun was to purposely set someone up, and ask them questions that would tempt them to use these nasty words. Then we would triumphantly exclaim “Nasty word!”  and steal their token. The competition got pretty ruthless, but those words stuck, so the exercise was definitely effective.

Here’s a Secret

When you’re trying recruit people to your idea, you want to likely avoid these words because they will turn people off from what you want to sell them. However, the reverse can also be effective as well. If you want to guide people away from an option, or concept, you purposely use these words to direct people away from the undesirable alternative, and toward the idea you want them to consider, and ultimately endorse.

There is nothing really magical here. The underlying psychology is that certain words paint a picture that either help your case or erect defense barriers, making it all the more difficult to overcome and get people to your way of thinking. Wouldn’t you agree that the fewer psychological barriers that we need to overcome the better?

Price or Cost

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What’s the picture that these words paint? It reminds people of the last frivolous or not so frivolous thing that they couldn’t afford to buy. They remember taking out their wallets and having that money bleed out its own or one where their debt increases. Either way, it paints a painful picture, doesn’t it?

Instead of “price” or “cost,” consider using the word “total amount” or “investment,” whichever better applies to the situation. For instance, which makes you more willing to ante up for more test resources?

“The cost of involving your team members in testing the application will be recovered when they become more knowledgeable for post-implementation support” or

“The investment of involving your team members in testing the application will be recovered when they become more knowledgeable for post-implementation support”

The choice is obvious.


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Welcome to my world right now. In the past few months, I have been crafting a systems requirements document for my project. It’s complete now, but I need to get it approved by the stakeholders, the people who will ultimately accept the system once we have completed and delivered it. I’ve been fighting for the last few weeks to get it signed off. In my correspondence, I am careful to avoid this scary word. Instead, I use the following:

  • Approve – makes them sound important.
  • Authorize – also makes them feel important.
  • Endorse – makes them feel like a celebrity. Usually, it’s only celebrities that are asked to endorse stuff.
  • Agree – is inclusive. It reinforces the feeling of being a team member
  • Okay it – I love this one. It makes their action sound so casual.

When you use the word ‘sign,’ it reminds people of that legal document, where there are 256 clauses in 6 point font… the fine print. No one ever bothers reading, but you know that one of those is ultimately going to screw you over. But any substitute “sign” with any of the above friendly alternatives, and here’s the difference it makes:

“Please can you review the attached section, and sign it whenever you’re ready” (insert screams and the sound of feet sprinting away)

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“Please can you review the attached section, and okay it whenever you’re ready”

Oh, yea, for sure! You probably already want to ‘okay’ it right then and there, and you don’t even know what I’m asking you to review.


Appointment / Meeting

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This one busted many a participant that weekend at the Tom Hopkins training. Whenever you’re meeting with a potential client, the tendency is to set an appointment. Here’s the type of appointments we generally make. We make a dentist appointment to extract a tooth. We make an appointment with the accountant to go over how much back tax we owe… We make an appointment with the proctologist.. well, you get the picture.

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In business, we schedule meetings. What image does that put in your head? Meetings are usually non-productive, where people roll their eyes at the waste of time illustrated as a shaded blue box on their Outlook calendar… where the same result could have likely been derived within first 20 minutes.

Instead of making an appointment, or scheduling a meeting, how about just simply:

  • Getting Together
  • Putting our minds together
  • Swinging by (your place)
  • Popping by (your office)
  • A few moments of your time

On the other hand, if you want to purposely draw attention to how intense an issue is, or how dangerous something is…If you want to make a big deal out of something, go ahead. Make that appointment. Schedule that meeting.  As I said, it could work both ways to your favor.

What v. Why

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I once attended a small group seminar. I learned about the distinction between arguably two of the most common questions in history: What v. Why. I learned that when you ask someone, ‘why’ something is, it creates stagnancy. I know what you’re thinking. “Well, Cat, the obvious answer to ‘why is ‘because (blah, blah, whatever the cause is).” The point of asking ‘why’ something is, is to figure out the cause of the effect. In other words, you don’t get anywhere. It’s not progressive. It’s not forward moving. Often, you ask why, and you won’t even be able to find the answer.

It’s not until you ask the next question, ‘What’ that propels you forward. Starting a question with ‘what,’ as Laura Berman Fortgang, wrote “forces you to be specific in your query.”

  • What happens next?
  • What shall we do?
  • What needs to happen we can move to higher ground?
  • What should we do to avoid this happening in the future?

Only when these ‘what‘ questions are asked can we see progress start to happen.  When we answer the ‘what’ question, we can start to formulate a practical action plan. This could never be achieved when only asking ‘why’ something is. Hence the lesson is if you want to beat around the bush, and waste a whole bunch of time, ask ‘why’ questions. If you want to be efficient, progressive and effective, ask ‘what’ questions right from the start.


Would v. How

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Ok. Let’s get back to lingo that is going to help you sell your ideas: Would v. How. This one came from a lovely article I found on Which of the two statements do you think creates more conversation?

“Would you consider teaming up with marketing to do some usability tests? or

“How would you feel about teaming up with marketing to do some usability tests?

Of course the second question ‘how’ creates a more collaborative atmosphere. The first question puts you on the spot. You can either answer yes or no. The person who asked the question is obviously expecting a ‘yes,’ so it’s a fake question. You’re asked with the expectation that you’re going to comply.

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On the other hand, if you’re asked “How would you feel about teaming up with marketing…” it’s like you almost get a say in your own fate. (Imagine that.) Even if the expectation is yes, it seems that you were respected enough that you were presented the choice to work with the marketing guys. You get to make the choice.


You’re Welcome. No, it’s My Pleasure

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A few years ago, I used to stay at the Double Tree when I was in Monrovia. Whenever I called the Front Desk for service, the call would be ended where I thank them for their help. They respond, “My pleasure to assist you.” Oh!.. yes, of course. How wonderful.

The next week, I started using this when I was at my client’s. I would be in a discussion. An action plan would be formulated. They end off the meeting with ‘Thank you.’ I replied, “My pleasure.”

“You’re Welcome certainly isn’t a scary phrase. In fact, compared to many others it’s a very good phrase indeed. However, if you want to ‘wow’ someone, I would recommend giving “My pleasure” a dance. Especially in the corporate setting, it’s not expected and certainly will elevate your perception of quality and service.

And, not But

In Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he discusses intimately the authenticity of the word ‘And’ versus the discrediting, debilitating ‘But,’ even when paired with the most sincerity. Which of these statements makes you feel like you’re truly appreciated for your input?

“Your feedback is so important, and I’m sure that if we had more chances to apply your suggestions, the product would be so much better.

“Your feedback is so important, but if we had more chances to apply your suggestions, the product would be so much better.”

The first statement conveys a message of true appreciation for feedback and commitment to continuous quality, even if the possibilities to do so are uncertain. The second says, “Ya ya, thanks for whatever you said. In a perfect world, we would care, and apply it. Alas, it’s out of my control so I’m not doing squat.” Moral of the story? Use “And;” lose “But.”

Does that Make Sense?

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When someone says that to me, I want to punch them in the face. There can’t be a more condescending phrase to make someone feel like a moron. Most of the time, it doesn’t even warrant an honest answer either. It’s a lose-lose situation. If you say no, it makes you look stupid. No one wants to be the chump who requires multiple explanations while the rest of the group sits there, sighs and starts checking their phones. So, chances are, I will say yes. However, I’m nodding because either it’s a conditioned response, or I’m thinking ‘ok whatever. I’ll just google it later.’

As the person who drops this line, this is bad news for you. You’ve almost definitely lost your credibility because they’ve stopped listening to you. On top of this, they think you’re an arrogant asshole. Good luck coming back from that.

Ok, you’re made your point, Cat. What should I say instead?

  • How does that sound (to you)?
  • Do you know what I’m saying?
  • Smell what I’m cooking?
  • Picking up what I’m putting down?
  • Catching what I’m throwing?
  • Puffin’ what I’m passin’?

I’m kidding. The first one’s legit. The rest… well, I’ll leave it to your discretion. Snackin’ what I’m packin’?


Final Thoughts

It’s often not what we say, but how we make the person feel that either endears them to us or repels them away. People don’t remember what you say. They will, however, remember how you make them feel…. often for years. The more distinctions, lingo, and techniques we can use to create a warm, fuzzy atmosphere, the easier it’s going to be for us to get support on our ideas.

I leave you with some excellent resources on learning more about skills you can take from the sales industry and apply it in the corporate environment. It doesn’t even need to be in a corporate environment. These skills are effective in any situation whenever you need to recruit people to your way of thinking.


More Resources

How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins

Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer

Go Givers Sell More by Bob Burg and John David Mann

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