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Learn to Use Words to Your Best Advantage

The Financial Post
March 19, 1994
Katherine Gay

Those who have a way with words usually get what they want. The second article in a series on style.

A BIG PART of work is explaining and persuading. And it's not just words that make people perk up or glaze over. It's how those words are communicated. You can go a long way with a mellifluous voice. A very nice man I know has a voice like dark chocolate and the IQ of a Pomeranian. As a salesman, he spends most of his time on the telephone expressing inchoate thoughts in deep, persuasion-dripping tones. He sounds like heaven and he closes deals.

Lucky man. A nasal, high-pitched, monotonous or loud voice would most certainly doom him to cleaning floors in a school for the deaf.

While you can't do much more than buff and polish whatever voice your genes have given you, you can acquire good grammar and proper enunciation.

The two most flagrant grammatical errors in business today are the misuse of "me" and "I," and not using the subjunctive. If further explanation is required, you should consult a good book of grammar.

Also integral to what you say is a knowledge of business etiquette.

For example, when introducing two people in a business setting, always "introduce up," says Adeodata Czink, president of Toronto-based Business of Manners, a firm specializing in international etiquette and social graces.

This means the name of the more senior person or the customer is said first.

Help with business etiquette is available through companies like Czink's, and from books like Oakville, Ont.-based Reid Publishing's Business Etiquette and Professionalism.

The next challenge is to understand the impact of the spoken word on the listener. Among the advice offered in Reid's Fifty Minute Series Books:

  • Comments like "Jeff works for me" or "She's my girl Friday" are almost always perceived as superior and threatening.
  • Paraphrasing or restating in your own words what youíve just heard helps when the other person is emotionally overwrought, when you want to build trust, and when you want to make sure you understand the message. It is useless if you paraphrase a person's message in a negative way.
  • People feel attacked when they feel judged, controlled or manipulated. Statements beginning with words like "you're wrong", "you should", "you're always" or "if you really cared" should be avoided.