Have you seen the TV show, What Not To Wear?  In one hour, they perform a fashion and grooming make-over on a disheveled woman (baggy sweats at the mall) or a way-too-casual man (tank top out to dinner.)  The show demonstrates how, with a little education and practice, you can transform from schlubby to sensational.  Really, it’s just a few tips.  Wear nice clothes that fit.  Accentuate your best features.  Put on a little makeup.  Stand up and smile.

I have a fantasy about the “hidden video footage” segment of the show.   Prior to the transformation, they film people out in public – looking awful – without them knowing it.  Horrors!  If the What Not To Wear folks show up at Know It All Lane, they are likely to find me and my husband, Hot Rod, less than dressed for success.  I will probably have enough fuzzy-sports-wear on to cause the stylish and sarcastic host to comment, “Wow, that head-to-toe fleece is so professional.”  Hot Rod may or may not have a shirt on (Gasp!  In the office!) and even the most hard-boiled reality TV viewer will have a hard time with his bright orange cargo shorts! 

Hmmm.  I wonder if we took the same make-over approach to what we SAY?  Imagine if a hidden audio recorder captured your conversations?  Yikes!  Suppose we established a few basic communication rules and improved the way we interacted with others?  What if we assembled a list of frequently asked questions about our business and crafted helpful answers?  What if we selected three tough questions (about price?) and practiced appropriate responses?  I wonder…

How would you handle these situations? 

  • Your customer tells you your pricing amounts to, “Highway Robbery.” (This is two days after you completed the job when her kinda-handy brother-in-law shows up to inspect the work.)

Here’s What Not To Say…

“Where was your brother-in-law at 3 am, when you called me?”

Or, “You get what you pay for.  We don’t charge anything to criticize someone else’s work either.”

How about this instead… 

“I wish it were not so expensive to run a professional service company.  The trucks, the insurance, the training, the inventory, the safety programs, the 24 hour phone service, the wages for top notch plumbers…it costs a lot to put this show on the road.  Our prices are based on our costs of doing business.  I wish we could charge less.  We do our best to support our pricing with our superior service and first rate personnel.

“However, you are upset and that’s not OK.  Our goal is your 100% satisfaction.  What would you like me to do so that you can be 100% satisfied with our service?”

Listen.  Then do it.  If she asks for all her money back, do it.  Most folks don’t want something for nothing.  Maybe 2% of the population is downright rotten and would rip you off like that.  Most people are just making sure that you are not ripping them off.  A little love and understanding goes a long way.  And, sure, you could sue them and wind up in court.  Or, you could learn from this situation.  Debrief the call and look for ways to improve your sales and operational procedures.   I vote:  do what she asks and a little bit more.

  • Your highest producing Service Tech shows up unshaved. 

Here’s What Not To Say…


Or, “Hey, I know I have mentioned this every day for the last 3 years, but it really bothers me when you don’t shave before work.”

How about this instead… 

“My favorite part of being a business owner is helping people develop their skills and capacity so that they can move up the ladder.  Make more money.  Expand their lives.  Support their families in the way they want to.  To do that, I am motivated to create the best business I can.  I am honor bound to hold you to performance standards and help you be successful.

“Here’s the deal.  Our customers appreciate a clean shaven Service Tech.  So do I.  So that’s the rule.  Whether or not you like the rule isn’t up for discussion.  To keep your job, you need to shave…every day, like it says here, in the Operations Manual.  I’d like you to keep your job.  However, I am not going to compromise my integrity.  If I were to look the other way, I would be doing that.  We use Progressive Discipline…so we can get back on track.  Progressive Discipline is also described in the Operations Manual.

“So, you have a couple of options.  Perhaps this is a one time thing, say…your dog peed on your razor this morning, or something like that.  It happens.  So, this is your Verbal Warning.  One of your options is to say, “Got it.  I will shave every day.”  Case closed.  If you show up again unshaved, you will get a Written Warning, the next time a Suspension and the next time, you will be let go from this company.  One of your options is to say, “I don’t want to work here if I have to shave every day.”  If you want to leave now, I am OK with that.  I hope you stay.  To do that, you shave.  Fair enough?”

  • Your kid announces he wants to quit school (job, football team, marriage…you get the idea.) 

Here’s What Not To Say…

“What is wrong with you?”

Or, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

How about this instead… 

“I bet you have been thinking about this for a while.  Want to fill me in?  I promise to listen and if you are interested, I could share some thoughts with you…ask you some questions.  And, I will love you whether or not you take any advice from me.  How does that feel to you?”

These words aren’t meant to be memorized and delivered verbatim.  The intent is to help you choose better words, words that may help you communicate more effectively.  Some people get the message by a raise eyebrow.  Some folks need to be grabbed by the chin.  Play with words that work for you, customized to the appropriate audience.

One last piece of advice… from my mother, “If you feel your blood boiling, breathe in and out ten times before you say anything at all.”

I am getting better with my words.  I am sloppier with them at home than I am with a client.  Perhaps I should work on that as well as my wardrobe.  After all, Hot Rod may appreciate it that I take care with my appearance.  I know he appreciates it when I choose kinder words.

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