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Reframe: using language to your advantage

As a writer, I tend to think about words quite a bit. It’s not an all-consuming thing, but I may be a bit more mindful of my p’s and q’s than some. There is an aspect of pragmatism to it. Were I to misuse a word it would be pretty embarrassing as I am a professional “word user.” 

Outside of pragmatism, there is also some aspect of reverence. I think words are important, and so is the way we use them. There are so many functions of language. We use words to explain ideas, express our feelings, even persuade others

Without words, selling would be near impossible. Though I would gladly pay to see someone do a product demo as an interpretive dance, it’s probably not the most effective means of communication. 

As a salesperson, you spend lots of time crafting messages, but how often is it something you actively think about outside of the informational value of what you’re saying?

In this article I talk about a few different language concepts and how you can implement them into your own language for a unique competitive advantage.

Framing

We’re all familiar with the “glass half empty / half full” saying. It’s an oft used device to, in theory, determine how naturally positive or negative someone is. Functionally, it’s a test of mindset. 

Though the glass test may be a bit reductive, there is a good lesson in there. It shows the power of choice. In any situation we have the option to choose the more positive view, or the more negative view. It’s not to say that one is better than the other. They both have their place. But, it is a choice we make. 

Framing is based on the same idea. It’s really about being cognizant of the language you’re using and being intentional about the words you choose. The most common example I see is replacing “I have to” with “I get to.” The first implies something is a burden, and the latter suggests it’s a privilege. 

In selling, and most aspects of life, people respond more positively to positive people. As salespeople know, the job is much easier when a prospect likes you. Though it’s a small thing, when you decide to frame things positively, it does have a big impact.

However, positive vs. negative isn’t the only application of framing. The language you choose can also create urgency, or a feeling of excitement. Really, at its core, framing means considering the emotional value of the language you’re using and deliberately choosing language that supports the emotion, and atmosphere, you’re trying to evoke. 

Sapir Whorf Hypothesis

A number of years ago on a work trip, when those were still a thing, a German co-worker of mine said to me, “I wish you knew German. I’m a much funnier person in German.” He went on to explain that though he had a relative command of English, since it wasn’t his native language, he wasn’t as able to make a quick joke or interject. 

He went as far as to say he felt his personality was actually different when speaking English because of those limitations. Essentially, the language he had was shaping his world. There’s actually an academic term for that. It’s called linguistic relativity (sometimes referred to as the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis). 

The very basic idea is that the language we use directly affects how we perceive the world around us. Generally, academics are more concerned about languages as a whole. For example, how speaking Chinese vs. Hopi could possibly end in different world views. However, others have expanded and started questioning how the specific words we use, not the language we speak as a whole, can have an impact. 

Similar to framing, linguistic relativity is really about perception and choice. Though it may sound a little far-fetched, there is some weight to the idea. For example, research done by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and communications professor Mark Robert Waldman found the words we use have an impact on our brains.

“There’s a lot of evidence to show that negative words and negative emotions are detrimental to the brain, while positive words and positive emotions are beneficial.” said Dr. Newberg. 

As with framing, the lesson of linguistic relativity is about being aware of the words we choose to use, and by extension, the atmosphere we create. So, make sure you’re being mindful and considering not just the factual information your words express, but the emotional information they portray too. 

Putting theory into practice

As a small, wise, green person once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Knowing different theories and principles are useful but are most valuable when actually put into practice.  

  1. Err on the side of positivity

Through the use of framing, or similar linguistic devices, you’re able to set the tone for your interactions. By using positive language, you help make prospects more comfortable and more willing to engage with you.

One great piece of advice Dr. Newberg offers is that for any one negative comment we make, have three positive things to say about the same. The practice helps create balance and keeps things from slipping toward the negative 

As mentioned above, consider saying things like “I get to” instead of “I have to.” You can also replace words like “cheap” with “economical” or “expensive” and “premium.” It’s common for companies to name tiers of products in this manner, but it’s not always reflected in our day-to-day language. 

I would also like to mention, there are some common replacement words I see suggested that you should avoid. Things like “inexpensive” or “foolproof” seem harmless, but our brains will actually focus on the negative part of each word (expensive/ fool). So, do your best to find terms that don’t contain negatives when replacing. 

  1. Be direct

As a writer, I know all too well the allure of adding in tons of flowery words to make something sound more exciting, or interesting, than it is. Though that can work sometimes, more often than not, all you’re doing is adding noise around your core message. 

When you’re direct you’re better able to express thoughts, opinions, and points of view. Being clear in your message helps build trust with prospects, which is crucial for closing deals. 

Consider having someone else proofread any message you’re sending and ask what their main takeaway was. If it doesn’t match your intention, ask what confused them or signaled their understanding. Though people may interpret messages differently, it’s still a useful insight to have. 

  1. Be brief

There are a few ways you can ensure brevity. First, just say less. I know that may sound odd, but it may be easier than you think. The simplest way to do so is by removing modifiers. Adverbs (words used to modify a verb, or adjective ie “they walked smoothly to the car.”) are specifically troublesome, so try and avoid them when possible. 

Also, try to speak only one or two sentences at a time. Realistically, we can only hold on to about 30 seconds of information at a time. So, if you talk continuously for 7 minutes, chances are the listener will only retain a very small part of what you said. 

To combat this, you can pause regularly, or ask confirming questions before moving on to keep the listener engaged. It also underscores that you should be doing your best to have your interactions be conversational. That way you and your prospect are trading off talking, making shorter spans of speaking more comfortable and natural. 

Conclusion

Language serves so many purposes in life and work. For those in sales, the ability to articulate yourself effectively can directly impact how well you perform. So, it only makes sense that you should be aware of the language you’re using. 

When we’re mindful of the things we say, and how we say them, we’re able to communicate more effectively. Be positive, be direct, and be brief and you’ll be on your way to closing more deals. Otherwise, you can always bust out your dancing shoes and give that a shot. Please let us know if you do.  

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