We all remember where we were on historic days like 9/11. Not as globally earth shattering as 9/11, but massively impactful to me, was hearing Sam Horn at the 1999 Squaw Valley PRO Convention. She focused on turning a familiar concept into effective communication that would pay significant dividends over the years ahead. This was one of those ideas that would pay for the entire trip to the convention.
A repeated theme in the 1990s was the customer perception of WIIFM? (What’s In It For Me?). During that decade, I had discussed this concept with audiences at PMA as well as at Fujifilm and Agfa dealer meetings. WIIFM? describes what’s on the subconscious mind of every customer in every buying situation. But WIIFM?—Why should I buy what you’re pitching?
Sam Horn took this to a new level in her classic book, Tongue Fu: How to Deflect, Disarm and Defuse Any Verbal Conflict. Her idea made sense: Appeal to the interests of the other party in an empathetic way and get what you both want.
That One Idea
Sam took WIIFM? a step further. After interviewing audience members prior to her presentation, she understood their frustrations when customers wanted warranty repairs without proof of purchase. (This was before we had today’s information technology that may make this process slightly easier.)
Sam asked, “Who here has said to a customer, ‘You must bring in proof of purchase or a warranty card’?” Most hands reached for the roof. Sam continued, “And who here has had a customer smile and say, ‘You’re right. I knew that!’?” The hands retreated with a laugh.
Sam Horn opened many eyes that morning by helping us see the phrase “You must…” exemplifies “words to lose.” “You must” is a nonnegotiable demand. It’s not customer supportive in any way. We should replace it with “words to use.”
For instance, “As soon as we have the proof of purchase, we can process your camera for warranty repair.” This shifts from a barked challenge to a polite acknowledgement of steps required from someone sympathetic to the customer’s needs. It also offers an outline of the steps you’ll take together to reach the desired goal. The phrase “you have to,” while accurate, is also inflammatory. Neither salespeople nor customers enjoy confrontation. Both parties want solutions. Sam showed how altering the request would result in a faster and more pleasant outcome.
Talking on Eggshells
So, what does this have to do with you? Until now, this column has never centered around a single book because I hadn’t read one that had benefit for all readers. However, after 27 years, Sam Horn expanded on Tongue Fu with a new book: Talking on Eggshells: Soft Skills for Hard Conversations.
Today, “words to use” are more essential than ever before. We have lost our ability to think before we speak. Identifying “words to lose” makes it easier for us to avoid the verbal tar pits we routinely fall into. Young people entering the workforce demonstrate fewer verbal communication skills. We can blame this on social media, computerization, texting or missing school during formative years. Whatever the reason, the situation is causing dissent and/or unpleasantness with customers as well as colleagues.
I suggest you give a copy of Talking on Eggshells to each team member as a great way to initiate change. Schedule meetings to cover individual chapters, while reviewing those already discussed. Further, assign each person a chapter that would best improve their interpersonal skill level. If everyone in your company is striving to identify “words to lose” and agreeing on “words to use,” team communication as well as mutual support will flourish.
Keep Your Cool, Manage Expectations
You’ll also find the book addresses critical life skills. Roughly half the text revolves around Part II: “Keep Your Cool in the Heat of the Moment.” Obviously, this has applications everywhere in our daily lives. However, it’s critical for those who interact with your customers every day.
In addition, Part III helps the reader to “Manage Your Expectations, Emotions and Mindset.” It’s a crucial skill for those who aren’t comfortable speaking up. Many outstanding employees possess the skills for leadership but hesitate to voice an opinion. “What if it’s misunderstood or the boss doesn’t agree? Shouldn’t I just keep my mouth shut?” Sam Horn’s book also strengthens the ability of the reluctant speaker to voice opinions without offending.
Googling Sam Horn’s videos and podcasts is another way to share her ideas. They are especially beneficial for younger employees who may have trouble absorbing new information from the written word. However, putting the book in your team’s hands may be more useful and certainly easier to reference. They can quickly turn to it when a situation arises.
Moreover, when you buy these books, consider sourcing them from your local independent bookstore. Perhaps, you can offer a partial trade for photofinishing services or printing. Your workforce’s enhanced interacting skills will more than pay for your investment.
Bill would love to hear from you with questions, comments or ideas for future columns. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 731-8389.