Are there forbidden words in client meetings?

I was perusing the interwebs as I’m known to do from time to time and came across a post of what appeared to be a newer consultant. The post was asking if this person’s boss had overreacted by saying this person shouldn’t be using the word “sweet” in a client meeting because it validates the client’s assumption that the person is young.

First, I suspect maturity or professionalism may be more of the issue with the client in question than actual age, but there is an bigger lesson in play here.

One of the marketers I read, Ben Settle, always talks about the downside of blindly taking what he does and trying to replicate in your business. And by downside, I mean it can cost you a lot of money, if not your entire business.

The same holds true here.

Let’s go back to one of the foundational rules of business, especially in client service. No matter how hard you want to fight it, perception is reality. The sooner you make your peace with that notion, the easier your life will be.

To that point, until you have better information, be at your most formal communication style if you’re going to lean toward an extreme. Think english literature paper or thesis in college vs. blog post or email to a friend.

I’ll go a step further, that “better information” I referred to needs to be unique to you.

Just because you see your boss talk to someone a certain way doesn’t mean you can pull off the same thing.

Some reasons for that might be:

  • They may be friends / acquaintances outside of the project
  • They may have worked with each other a long time so your boss can be more direct
  • Your boss may know how to deliver with a tone that’s just received differently than when you say it (I’m not saying it’s fair… but life’s not fair.)

Knowing your audience (and getting to that point quickly) is one of the key weapons in the savvy consultant’s toolkit. And while it may be equally easy from your perspective to flex up or down on the formality scale, it’s a much better look to have to dial down the formality than turn it up.

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