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In Business, Say What You Mean

“Say what you mean.” That’s the most important thing I ever learned in school. My English teacher Miss Jacques was adamant about clarity and about getting to the point. She stripped sentences, eliminated ambiguity and hated redundancy.

 

The same thing that’s true in an English essay is true in business, only more so. In business there’s an enormous desire to hedge your bets, to have it both ways. But we all know that you can’t really (or rarely) have it both ways.

 

These days business speak is filled with qualifiers and clarifications. Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “on the other hand,” “a good chance,” “however” and the dreaded “but” area all intended to get us over the hook or to provide some wiggle room. Those are words that should be eliminated from your business vocabulary.

 

Long, complex and convoluted sentences have the same impact. If you can’t say it simply, maybe you shouldn’t be saying it. Strong declarative, easily understood sentences convey your ideas and advice clearly and generate confidence.

 

Your clients are paying for your best advice. They’re not paying for your psychological comfort or a guess. If you are sure about something, say it. If you want or need to qualify something state specifically that that’s what you’re doing.

 

Lawyers are taught how to see and to argue both sides of a case. That’s why so many prosecutors ultimately go into the private sector as defense attorneys. Yet they’re not taught to argue both sides in a single case. It’s that anticipation of the other side’s argument that makes own assertions that much stronger.

 

When you have an assertion, make it. If you’re not sure, don’t say it or let your client know directly that you have reservations. It’s foolhardy after all to be certain about something that’s not certain. If you believe, for example, that there’s an 80 percent chance that something will happen, say it. If based on your experience you believe that a certain process leads to a certain result, say it.

 

The result of this exercise is not to enable you to exude false confidence and to give false hope. It’s meant to make you think about what you’re saying. If you don’t have confidence in what you’re saying whether it’s a deal or legal advice, you shouldn’t be saying it.

“Say what you mean.” That’s the most important thing I ever learned in school. My English teacher Miss Jacques was adamant about clarity and about getting to the point. She stripped sentences, eliminated ambiguity and hated redundancy.

The same thing that’s true in an English essay is true in business, only more so. In business there’s an enormous desire to hedge your bets, to have it both ways. But we all know that you can’t really (or rarely) have it both ways.

These days business speak is filled with qualifiers and clarifications. Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “on the other hand,” “a good chance,” “however” and the dreaded “but” area all intended to get us over the hook or to provide some wiggle room. Those are words that should be eliminated from your business vocabulary.

Long, complex and convoluted sentences have the same impact. If you can’t say it simply, maybe you shouldn’t be saying it. Strong declarative, easily understood sentences convey your ideas and advice clearly and generate confidence.

Your clients are paying for your best advice. They’re not paying for your psychological comfort or a guess. If you are sure about something, say it. If you want or need to qualify something state specifically that that’s what you’re doing.

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