6 Phrases That Undermine Client Relationships (And What To Say Instead)

Whether you work with clients remotely or in person, communication can sometimes get a little complicated. Especially, if you are working in teams. Consultants and project managers can work to nurture client relationships and interactions, by avoiding some of the mishaps that most commonly occur when communicating.

Are you undermining your client relationship with any of the 7 phrases below?

1. Saying “I” when you should be saying “We”

Using “we” instead of “I” helps solidify a team effort, and reminds the client that you are all working to achieve the same goal. Use “we” instead of “I”, whenever possible.

Instead of: “I’ll work on getting this spreadsheet updated.”
Say: “We’ll work on getting this spreadsheet updated.”

In this example, we are avoiding the usage of the word, “I” and replacing it with, “we” to reflect a team approach. In most cases, someone else is in fact going to turn in the spreadsheet, and other times, you may handle the task yourself. When you have a team who is successfully working together, and everyone is doing their part- “we” is appropriate.

2. Using the word “you” when describing something the client is doing or did

People in general, do not like having a reiteration made describing things they have done, or said. This can be perceived as sounding accusatory and may leave the client feeling challenged.

Instead of: “You told me not to post this blog until Wednesday.”
Say: “Are we still going to wait to post the blog on Wednesday?”

In this example, we have turned the language around to reflect our intentions. And we resisted the urge to self-absorb by using the word, “I”. Referring to the client in present or past tense, should definitely be avoided in instances where conflict is involved, or has the potential to arise.

3. Using the word “just”

This is an uncomfortable stretch. It leaves whoever is saying it sound inarticulate.

Instead of: “I just didn’t get a clear answer from you on which path was preferred.”
Say: “I’m not clear on which path is preferred, let’s rehash.”

“Just” is a four letter word, packed with a lot of meaning, and can lead the client to think that there is something you are not properly communicating. It’s difficult to discern what people mean when they say the word “just”, which mistakenly blurs the lines between thoughts, feelings, emotions, and concrete facts.

4. Saying, “Whatever you feel” or “If you feel”

It’s never a good idea to state how you think someone else feels. Doing so may sound unintentionally condescending.

Instead of: “Let’s do whatever you feel we need to do for edits”
Say: “I like your suggestions on what needs edited, let’s move forward with them”

Although, it is a nice gesture to let a client know you are observing how they may feel, or what they may want, there are better ways to communicate your intention.

5. Saying, “I think,” “I feel” and “I believe”

Stated rather bluntly, these words serve as a crutch that mirror internal doubt.

Instead of: “I feel we will meet the deadline.”
Say: “I’m confident we will meet the deadline.”

Feelings have little to do with what you set out to accomplish. In this instance, assertiveness is everything. Try to replace these words with power conditionals such as, “I’m confident,” “I’m convinced” and “I’m optimistic”, and you will increase the power of the rest of your statement.

6. Saying, “Does that make sense”

This phrase is commonly used to make sure that listeners are following what is being said.

Instead of: “Does that make sense.”
Say: “Are there any questions.”

In a 2011 article written by Jerry Weissman for the Harvard Business Review, he identifies the words, “Does that make sense,” as having two negative implications:

1. “Uncertainty on the part of the speaker about the accuracy or credibility of the content”
2. Doubt about the ability of the audience to comprehend or appreciate the content”

Weissman was referring to public speaking, but, we can appropriately assume that the words, “Does that make sense”, do not belong in dialogue with your client either.

How To Weed Out These Words

In most cases, these words serve as worthless staples in conversations. They creep into dialogue when sentences break. When speaking to clients, remember to think strategically, parse your words and remain alert. If you want to weed these words out of your vocabulary, start with your emails. Cut these words from your emails to clients, and you’ll likely start paying more attention to when you say them.



Where I'll work