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The words we use convey so much more than we might initially realize. They are powerful. They set the tone, reinforce who we are, and convey meaning beyond their perceived simplicity. They have the ability to build someone up or tear them down. In fact, when you think back on some of the most impactful things people have said to you over the years, you likely remember their words, both positive and negative. As a business leader, you need to take their power seriously and understand that words matter. Carefully selecting the right words to use in the right moments can provide motivation and a unified spirit for your team.
Your clients are listening to you too, and they’re also reading between the lines. That makes the words you speak to them and include in your documents incredibly important. Starting your relationship off right with new clients is crucial. Think, for example, about your intake team. Their words mark the first communication with a potential client. Training your intake team to use words that matter from the very beginning is vital.
We encourage you to take the initiative to be intentional about the words you use both with your team and with your clients. You’ve got a choice to make. Here are some of the most important words we encourage our clients to pick:
Vista is adamant about using the word team in our everyday language, whether we’re referring to the person who answers your phones or the partners at your law firm. Team conveys that we’re all working together towards some greater goal, and we all have a role to play towards that endeavor. When people hear themselves referred to as staff they think, “I’m staff – they’re management – they get it – I don’t.” You don’t want your team to feel like they don’t have a critical part to play. You want them to feel like they are part of something important. When you are communicating to them or about them, you should emphasize the team mentality. That will inspire them and make them feel like you’re all on the same team, playing the same game, and, ultimately, trying to do what’s right for your client.
Words that accurately describe an event are unquestionably the most effective. Using a word or phrase that conveys the wrong meaning, can be misinterpreted, or undermines the premise of your case can prove harmful to your business. Vista believes the word “accident” doesn’t effectively convey to your clients how seriously you take the event that happened to them. We prefer, instead, to use the word “crash.” We believe terms like “accident” don’t effectively relay that, more than likely, someone has made a decision that was negligent and has caused someone else harm or injury. Crash is a better choice because it clearly defines what happened, removes any indication that your client holds any responsibility for what happened, and, often, is in line with the terminology utilized by law enforcement. It’s important to use crash both when you’re communicating with your client and when you’re communicating with opposing counsel or an adjuster.
Remember, selecting the right terms from the very outset of a case is important so that you’re able to set clear expectations and emphasize the kind of relationship you want to establish with your clients. When you’re communicating with a potential client, you want to make sure they know that you want them to sign an agreement between two people, not just a contract. Contract can have negative connotations, while agreement speaks to a relationship where both parties have responsibilities.
People cringe when they hear the word, “fee.” The phrases “legal fee” or “the fee is a percentage of the recovery” will only serve to put a bad taste in the mouth of a potential or current client. Consider replacing that terminology with “price.” “Our price for the service is X.” It clearly conveys the meaning without dodging the fact that there is a charge for your services.
Some words just carry negative, cringeworthy connotations. Avoiding those triggering words can allow us to soften what can be difficult or tricky business interactions. Vista suggests you should ditch the term “bill” and use “invoice” instead. The term “bill” can come across as a bit harsh. Alternatively, “invoice” still effectively conveys the appropriate meaning while also eliminating that perceived harshness.
The words you use when referring to the lifeblood of your business are incredibly important. Vista believes you should “file away” the term “account” when referring to your clients. Instead, we prefer to call them either a “client” or a “customer.” Both of those terms are decidedly warmer and more respectful. They convey that the client or customer is someone who we are serving and working on behalf of.
Any time you can select a word or phrase that leads with positivity rather than negativity, your choice is simple. Consider training your team and ensuring your website and social media content use the phrase, “We are open until” instead of “We close at.” It may sound small, but the slight difference in that phrasing can convey a wholly different meaning to a client.
People follow leaders, not managers. If you want to build a strong team at your law firm, don’t refer to them as “management” or “managers,” but, instead, push terms like “leader” and “leadership.” It accurately conveys what their role and aim is, while also subtly inferring direction and vision. It’s incredibly important to set your leadership team up for success. They will set the tone with the rest of your team and, ideally, be the beacons everyone looks to for inspiration and focus.
Bottom line is this…we make thousands of choices every day. Considering the language we use on a daily basis should be one of those conscious choices. Being intentional about your word choice can allow your legacy to be one of hope, truth, and insight, even when you need to deliver a tough message. If, as leaders, we’re thoughtful about how we speak and what we say, we can motivate our team, instill confidence in our clients, and live out our vision and mission every day – in big ways and small ones.
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