Being able to elegantly SAY WHAT YOU MEAN isn't always an easy task—
—particularly when you're too busy for petty sh*t like showers, your stress hormones are being IV dripped into your veins at the rate of a class five river rapid, your head is doing Beetlejuice-style 360s as you juggle fourteen and a half clients (and their really cute idiosyncrasies—wink), and as a darling bonus, your three children are pounding their fists at the dining room table threatening to call child protection services if you don't get off your goddamn Macbook.
Do not lie to me, all-is-perfect soccer moms. I'm onto you.
When you're constantly under pressure (which is apparently is all the time), the things you say, and the way you say them (especially when it comes to clients) may come out…less eloquently than they should. Less tactful. Less poised. Less professional. And more, ahem, jerky / jolting / daft / dippy / demented / ill-considered / spasmodic / twitchy / bitchy / ignorant / negligent / amateurish / incompetent / dubious / unreliable / irresponsible / fishy / flimflam / conscienceless / asinine / blundering / lumpish / unrefined / lowbrow / oafishly obtuse / like you never passed the 3rd grade. Take your pick.
As a result, maybe you end up severing the critical connection you had with that prospect. (Sale=gone.)
Or maybe you make your client feel like an asshole. (Referrals=gone.)
Or maybe you come off like a royal bitch when all you were trying to do was “set boundaries.” (Relationship=gone.)
Or maybe you aren't even able to make your point at all because you can't figure out a nice way to make them understand that YOU WILL HAVE A MENTAL BREAKDOWN IF THEY EMAIL YOU ONE MORE URGENT REQUEST. (Sanity=gone.)
So what's an overworked, overstressed, overwhelmed, overtired, overanxious, well-meaning schmuck of a business owner like you to do?
What do you do when you barely have one more particle of energy left for being “chipper” or “engaging” or “articulate” or, for the love, “diplomatic?”
What do you do when it's all flying in your face at once, but you can't seem to tame Candy the Client, who loves to request last minute, MUST HAVE items on Saturday morning. Or even think about a graceful way to negotiate with this prospect who wants 40,000 discounts and a lolipop. Or figure out an effortlessly elegant way to follow-up with that person and say, DO I HAVE THE JOB OR NOT, TWINKLE TOES?!
First, you pray.
And then? You memorize the following signature go-to transition phrases that can, at the very least, give you a hopeful head start in a time of need.
Presenting: Twenty-three (that's 23, math fans) of our favorite go-to transition phrases, honed over the years of blood, sweat and many a damn near mental breakdown, that keep you looking cool, calm and collected…even when that's the very last thing you are.
- “Can I level with you?”
- “I'm going to have to insist we…”
- “Out of respect for your time…”
- “How else can I personally make this work for you?”
- “Here's what I recommend to make sure you get everything that you want, while staying within the scope of the project.”
- “Though my hands are tied on this one, here's what I can do:____________.”
- “As a courtesy, I wanted to go ahead and send over my new rates for your records. (It’s such a blessing to be in demand.)”
- “Thank you for the note, and the much-appreciated explanation regarding your position. Now let me help you understand a little bit about mine.”
- “Pay the fuck up, or I’m calling Benny the Hammer.” (Kiddddding.)
- “I wanted to give you a heads up as soon as possible: After submerging myself fully in <insert deliverable>, it’s become evident that in order to do our best work together, I’m going to need until <insert date> to complete this.”
- “While I’m usually first in line to appreciate witty banter, I’ve got to raise a polite but firm hand and let you know you’re crossing some boundaries I’d rather you didn’t.”
- “I absolutely would if I could, but unfortunately, if I let you cut to the front, I’d have to give the same preferential treatment to everyone else, which is a surefire recipe for a madhouse.”
- “Sure, I’m happy to make that change for you! That said, I did want to add a quick note to let you know that, with this change, we’ll exhaust our number of revisions included within the scope of this project. (Womp, womp, I know.)”
- “I have to alert you that if we can’t get that last invoice current, I’m going to be forced to pause our project.”
- “While I’m certain this is an oversight, <insert the problem, i.e. your consistently late payments each month> have/has admittedly been a little distressing for me.”
- “Just to make sure we keep things on schedule and budget, might there be a way for you to consolidate the team’s thoughts and shoot me over the final decision?”
- “I’ve just realized I’ve made a terrible mistake, and wanted to come to you directly to see how we might be able to remedy it as quickly as possible.”
- “I'm going to have to pass this time.”
- “The budget made a lot of sense when we first developed it. That said, in service to you, we may have to explore adding to it if we want to see this thing through the right way.”
- “Unfortunately, right now my time is committed 100% to <your main project>, and unless I want to start breaking promises to myself, I’m going to have to decline.”
- “I’m happy to grant you an extension through <insert specific date>. However, I'll need to ask you to commit to a pretty buttoned-up timeline for the remainder of the project in order to finish on schedule.”
- “We may have had a misunderstanding—perhaps I wasn't clear about my expectations.”
- “Is there something we need to discuss directly?”
Having phrases in your professional back pocket like these work in the same way that Obama says he only wears black and blue suits.
—because he wants to reduce the number of extemporaneous things he has to worry about. He's got enough decisions to make every day, and so do you.
You've got to make every effort to keep your communications professional, pleasurable and pleasing when doing business—no matter what. No matter how irked you might be in the moment, no matter how much of a d*ck the other guy is being, and no matter what you *really* want to say.
Because your words are a liability for your business, and they're a liability for you. And choosing the right ones has never been more important, in a time when the majority of our communications happen via email or 140 character tweets, and what you say—and the way you say it—affects everything.
After all, we all know what happens when a woman insists she's “fine.”
The minute your client goes down that road?
You shouldn't pray. You should run.
Because it doesn't matter that you don't have the time for petty sh*t like showers, or that you have enough stress hormones to form the next Amazon river basin, or that your head is doing Beetlejuice-style 360s, or that your three darling children are actually assholes.
Because the only thing that really matters to the client?
Is not your experience.
And very often, the most overlooked key to business success?
Is remembering that.