Words Matter: 3 Words To Avoid When Consulting With Subject Matter Experts

3 Words To Avoid When Consulting With Subject Matter Experts

My former manager, who has influenced many of my consulting methods, once told me: “Words mean things”. It’s so true.

By using inclusive, positive language, we can build consensus and create an atmosphere of collaboration. I challenge you to be mindful of your words when consulting with Subject Matter Experts, clients, and stakeholders, and avoid using “you”, “no”, and “problem/issue”. Instead, try these alternatives!

“You”.

Avoid using “you” because it can be off-putting; similar to pointing a finger at someone or shining a spotlight on him or her. While it might sound strange to avoid “you”, try to find alternatives. For example, use “we” instead because it implies partnership; we are on the same team.

Don't say… Instead, try…
What would you like to do? What should we do?
How should we proceed?
I think you should… I think we should…
I recommend we…
Let’s…

“No”.

While consultants are often advised to avoid “no”, sometimes it’s acceptable if you have built rapport with your stakeholder and your relationship will allow it. Be mindful of your tone and follow it up with a rationale for that answer. Because it can be tricky to determine when to use “no” constructively, it’s best to find alternatives.

Don't say… Instead, try…
No. Yes...and…
No, we can’t do that. It’s out of scope. Yes, absolutely, we can do that. Let’s take a look at our current scope and see what adjustments we would need to make to make that happen.

“Problem” Or “Issue”.

Whenever I travel to abroad, I like to immerse myself in the culture, particularly the language. When I was in Jamaica a few years ago, I discovered my favorite expression: “no problems, only situations”. It says so much. When I returned home, I printed it in a HUGE font and displayed it in my office.
When we use words like “problem” or “issue”, it brings a certain tone to a conversation. It can be received as counterproductive, especially if you present problems without recommending solutions. Here are some alternatives:

Don't say… Instead, try…
The problem with that is... My concern with that is...
There is an issue with [something]… We should discuss the potential outcomes of [something].
There’s a problem. We have a situation...
That presents a problem. That creates a situation…

 

These words to avoid are not hard and fast rules, but suggestions to keep dialogue positive and productive. The way in which we communicate with our team and our stakeholders can potentially have an impact on the learning solutions we create and the relationships we are building and maintaining. Being mindful of the words you choose and your tone will help create an environment where everyone feels included and valued.

What other words do you avoid when consulting with Subject Matter Experts, clients, and stakeholders? 

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