Magic Phrases

I have two feet firmly planted in two different occupations. One is what they call a “day-job” where I’m the production manager and graphic designer at Traders Printing. The other is my a-vocational ministry, where I’m the pastor of The Core Fellowship. One thing they have in common is the importance of really good communication. In other words, making people feel valued and blessed, and gaining a solid mutual understanding of needs and ideas. It may come as a surprise, but I think communication skills are more important than Photoshop skills when it comes to graphic design, because you will never give the client what they need if you can’t get them to tell you what it is. And half they time they either don’t know, or can’t express it.

Before I share some of my “magic phrases” with you, that can help anyone through some of the rough spots, let me confess that I’m not exactly at the top of the heap in this area. I’m pretty good at professional courtesy (and at keeping customers from getting angry with me,) but I still fall short a lot when it comes to creating mutual understanding (especially in the details.)

Nevertheless, here’s a few phrases that I’ve tried to incorporate whenever I get into a jam. Usually they work pretty well. So enjoy! and add a comment to below to share some of your magic phrases.

Please tell me your name again.

We’re all human, and we all forget names. Especially when in our ministries or professions we meet a lot of people. The best thing, of course, is to remember as many as possible, and even to practice this, and find devices to help you succeed. But the second best thing is to simply admit that you forgot, and ask them again. At least this shows them that you care about their name enough to embarrass yourself a little. And maybe it’s cheesy, but if it turns out they’ve forgotten mine as well, I tell accuse them of pretending to forget just to make me feel better.

On the other hand, you can’t do this more than twice. If you forget their name three times you’ll probably have to ask a third party, or find some other way to sleuth it out (like giving them a wedgie to see if it’s sewed into their underwear. or not.)

Hold that thought.

I find myself getting interrupted a lot: at work, and at the Front Porch. And quite often when I do, somebody is in the middle of telling me a story, or sharing a thought, and I don’t want them to think I don’t care about it. Otherwise I’m just that distractible manager or church-planter who can’t ever build a real relationship or have a real conversation. So the phrase “hold that thought” (especially when I can form it as a question, “Can you hold that thought?” and wait for the positive response) comes in really handy. The only trick is… not to leave them on hold indefinitely.

That’s a really good question.

One of my responsibilities at work this last week was making follow-up calls to a promotional letter we sent out (I’ll be doing more this week as well.) Even though the letters and phone calls are directed to our current customers, the point is to sell them on our new web design services, and there is a lot of perceived pressure to sound knowledgeable as I answer their questions. One (perceived) deal-breaker, is to respond to a question with a dead pause, or a series of hems and haws. There’s nothing wrong with stopping to think about your answer, but you can’t sound as if you’ve been caught off guard. So I like to say “That’s a really good question.” Sometimes that buys enough time by itself to help you get your answer together. Other times it may be necessary to ask them to hold so you can confer with your co-worker or boss, or do some research. But I don’t believe that’s a turn-off to customers like a dead pause would be, especially when you begin by complimenting their questioning abilities.

Bear with me.

This goes hand in hand with “Hi there… I’ll be with you in just a moment.” People like to know that you recognize the value of their time, and I believe their patience is greatly increased when they see that recognition. I first learned this working a summer job at a busy deli. No matter how many people you’re trying to help, when a new customer walks up to the counter, acknowledge their presence and tell them you’ll be with them as soon as possible. I learned it so well that it really bothers me to not be acknowledged right away by a clerk or other employee in a business. (I should go easy on them… not everybody can have great teachers like I did.) And then when you are helping someone out, and it takes a little longer than expected, “Bear with me” really creates a lot of sympathy. They know you’re working hard to make them happy, and they won’t get upset if they have to wait.

Thanks for your patience/understanding.

This is a great follow up from the previous phrases, but it also applies to situations where you’ve screwed things up and are trying to fix it. Rather than begging for their patience or their understanding, simply thank them for it as if it’s already a fact. So it’s especially effective with people who are beginning to lose their temper, and have displayed no patience or understanding at all; it throws them off just enough to calm them down a little. This approach reminds me of the way God called Gideon a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6) even though he was acting like a wuss. He calls things that are not as though they are, and thus his words, in themselves, bring about his desired reality (Gideon became a hero of battle.)

So how about you? How do you get yourself out of a tight spot? What do you say to make people feel valued?

Of course, there’s only real value in the words, if there’s a reality to match them.

One thought on “Magic Phrases

  1. This is a very practical post.

    I am in technical support (not helpdesk, it’s very different from helpdesk). As such, my job requires a ton of customer interaction and the customer has to believe that I am capable of getting them to a final solution to their issue in a timely manner. Usually by the time I am involved the customer is at least a bit irritated as well. Since my job is technical and people may be asking questions that relate to technologies that I know very little about, I frequently have to do is set expectations about the sorts of things that I should know (our product) versus the things I have less experience with (how our product might perform on some untested third-party platform, for example). If I define those things that I should know versus those things I might realistically not know, it is easier for me to use one of my favorite statements: “I don’t believe that it is possible to do (whatever the customer wants to do), but there may be documentation that I am unaware of. Can I research this and get back with you later today or tomorrow?”

    In a book I read a few months ago (The Upside of Irrationality) the author described an experiment where someone would be in the middle of a small business interaction with an unknowing subject, get interrupted by a phone call and ignore the other person for a few seconds. Then, the person would “accidentally” give the subject too much money in the transaction. Significantly more people kept the extra money if the person they were speaking with held that few-second conversation than if there was no interruption. However, if the person who accepted the call apologized, then to the percentage of people who kept the extra money was in line with what happened when there was no interruption.

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