Talk in Their Language

Harold's Eye View

I’m in Latvia, and I try to stay connected to my family while I’m on the road. Recently, my 5 year old, Harold, has taken to texting using Kat’s phone. In person, Harold likes to tell me about video games and YouTube clips and his own iterations of other creative properties (he’s invented Super Stick Man Harold, who is part of Super Stick Man Mario Brothers). On text, Harold is telling me about his day. He’s doing it his way. He likes to emote via text. It’s not “yes.” It’s “Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

So when we’re on Text, I give him lots of yes and no questions. When we’re in person, I ask him details about Super Stick Man Harold Kart Racing, or whatever else he’s creating.

I talk to him in his language and using his medium. It takes longer sometimes. It’s always more rewarding, though. How he texts is hilarious, complete with grown up emotions thrown in (probably related to things he’s seen in YouTube videos), and how he draws and talks about his imaginary worlds is inspiring.

Would you give that same kind of opportunity to connect if it were your customer? Do you talk in their language, on their device of choice and about the topics that interest them?

Most of us don’t, do we?

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  • Vishal Khandelwal

    This was a simple (and wonderful) articulation of such an important subject of talking to customers in a language that they understand, not what you want to speak. Thanks for the post!

    • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

      I have to agree it can get any simpler than that! 

  • http://www.kherize5.com Suzanne Vara

    This is so great as it is exactly what goes on in my house. Andrew being 6 and all about Lego Star Wars has his own way of talking about it with me (then again he is more teaching me about it as I stare blankly and say oh honey that is so great that you just unlocked that next phase of the game).

    With children we take the extra time to listen to them and learn how they find it easiest to communicate however in the biz world, we do not always do this. There are 2 schools of thought here. If we are adapting to every client then are we not setting boundaries and will be fielding emails and calls at all hours but then again if we are setting boundaries are we missing out creating a solid bond with the client and will find them shopping for someone else or will the competition just scoop em up? Something to think about

  • http://dissertationtoday.com/ dissertations

    amazing post. you are talking about things that should be obvious… but we all know from our own experience that it is not only not obvious but many people dont really understand this at all! thnks!

  • http://dissertationtoday.com/ dissertations

    amazing post. you are talking about things that should be obvious… but we all know from our own experience that it is not only not obvious but many people dont really understand this at all! thnks!

  • http://vizsource.info/ Kim Davies

    Hi, Chris.

    My first time here yet I am already wowed. :) You have a way of stressing a point that makes it easier to understand than those who spout a whole lot of words that just get lost as you read them. Now, I understand why a lot of people consider you as one of the gods in blogging.

    And, yes, I agree with you. Talking with people in their own language is indeed very important. Not only will this let them know that you care enough to place yourself on the same level as them. It will also tell them that you are really interested to know more about them as persons instead of people you sell to.

     

  • http://vizsource.info/ Kim Davies

    Hi, Chris.

    My first time here yet I am already wowed. :) You have a way of stressing a point that makes it easier to understand than those who spout a whole lot of words that just get lost as you read them. Now, I understand why a lot of people consider you as one of the gods in blogging.

    And, yes, I agree with you. Talking with people in their own language is indeed very important. Not only will this let them know that you care enough to place yourself on the same level as them. It will also tell them that you are really interested to know more about them as persons instead of people you sell to.

     

  • http://wordsdonewrite.blogspot.com Words Done Write

    The bulk of my background is in corporate communications, so this advice really resonates with me. You have got to use the appropriate language for the appropriate audience. Yet, it’s amazing how many people drop the ball on that.

    We don’t speak to an audience of French people and present in English (without a translator), do we? Using the wrong words in the wrong vehicles is no different.

    Have fun in Latvia, Chris!

  • Anonymous

     It’s also about asking open ended questions and listening to what the other person says.  Let them tell their story- you’ll learn and connect on much deeper levels than you ever expect.

  • http://www.youintegrate.com Kneale Mann

    Your exchange with Harold in person and on text reminds me of the core issue we can forget and that is to read the room. I have a friend who worked for a large phone company. One of his clients was a large construction company. Things were going well and his direct report was in town and wanted to meet some of my friend’s clients. On the morning they were to meet with the construction company, the “boss” met my friend in the hotel lobby all buttoned down in blue suit and crisp white shirt. My buddy told his boss to go back to his room, find a golf shirt and jeans. Shocked, the boss honored the request. 

    Within ten minutes of meeting the president of the construction company – which, by the way, represented close to a six-figure annual account for my friend’s company – the language was not g-rated and my buddy’s boss was gobsmacked. What he didn’t know was my buddy had a strong relationship with the president of the construction company and read the room. 

    We shouldn’t become someone we’re not, but we should pay attention to the context of the relationship. Or as Jeff Eisenberg so aptly put years ago, we need to speak to the dog, about what matters to the dog in the language of the dog.

  • Anonymous

    Talking in a client’s language is a tricky thing. We do a lot of soccer tournament stuff and we have vendors call and think they know what the soccer tournament market is all about. They use examples of rec soccer when we are clearly in the competitive market. Totally different animals, yet they persist in “demonstrating” their knowledge as if we will be so impressed we will buy from them. They are wrong. Sometimes (most of the time), talking in a client’s language means “shut up and really, really listen to what they are saying.”

    A soccer tournament is not just a two-day league season and orange slices on the sidelines :-)

  • http://zainad.blogspot.com/ Zaira Rahman

     Very nice post…short, simple and quite aptly put. 

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

     Not much to say here. Like Zaira and other have said Short and very powerful message! 

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    My goodness, look at your mini-me up there! Beautiful. So awesome that you and Harold have found a neat way to communicate. Lots of parents never figure that out.

    My next phase in my work focuses on language and community building. When we have only word, sound and visual tracks to connect with people the language we use is of primary importance in how we build online communities that engage and ultimately purchase.

    Taking your “grow bigger ears” idea wider, not only do I listen to my community, I take their actual words and generate my writing/blog posts/sales pages/product names from their words. In psychology we call that “mirroring” and it is a very powerful way to let others know you hear them and understand their needs/pain/fears/wants. And when we feel heard, we feel validated and want more from the person who takes the time to understand.

    Clients and customers are human and all of us were 5 once.  Words and how they are shared matter in relationships- personal and business.

  • http://www.quotessuccess.com Barry

    Great post, Chris! I had this happen to a peer of mine once – his 2-year-old kept stealing his mother’s cell phone and sending him stern, macro texts. “Let’s talk later.” “The answer is no.” “Call me now.” There were some awkward conversations when he got home that night…

    Your point, though, applies to all communication, not just corporations. When speaking with employees, friends, family, colleagues, customers, we all need to work from a common base of understanding. It makes both understanding and the relationship stronger. Thanks for the reminder!

  • http://twitter.com/NancyD68 Nancy Davis

    My son is eight and is a baseball fanatic. He will happily watch Yankee games and listen to sports radio all day. One of these days I am going to have to record him when he is talking about what trades he would make. He has a good head for baseball. Maybe a future Yankee I am raising.

    I always like to ask how people want to be communicated with. I prefer phone, most like text (I am not a fan of text for many reasons) or others want email and some like Skype. I always want to communicate in the method that works best for everyone since that keeps everyone happiest.

    My boss loves stats, so if I want to please him, I call then email him what he needs, and I include stats. Charts are even better for him. He is very visual, so he likes to see things, and I understand this.

    I don’t need to see things. I want to hear. I prefer phone or Skype for that reason. There is also less chance of me thinking someone is being sarcastic if I can hear tone of voice. 

  • Alisa

    This is a question I am constantly asking myself in my work with college students (I work in student affairs/residential life).  I never thought it would be so important to watch MTV shows like Jersey Shore so that I know what a “grenade” is.  Understanding text language has also been very important for helping students resolve conflicts.  In the end I am a better professional when I understand the language current college students are using.  It helps me become a better listener and gage my response to the situation in front of me.

  • Anonymous

     Your 5 year old texts?!  Mine isn’t even wiping his butt very well yet.  I’m impressed.

  • http://twitter.com/ed_han ed han

    Chris, it surprises how often this lesson needs re-learning. I see this all the time with my nieces & nephews (side note: how fun are these languages every household develops?), who’ve enriched my own vocabulary with words like “ta-ta” for thank you. It’s a beautiful thing.

    Your genius however is in finding these lessons and seeing how they apply so broadly, even though the original context is something familiar to almost everyone.

  • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

    I noticed this about myself about a year ago, because I was constantly frustrated that people just didn’t seem to understand me. And its not their fault, everyone brings to the table a completely different set of life experiences and knowledge sets.

    I’ve been much more conscious of this and it’s helped me out a ton. Even during a conversation I’ll ask ‘would I understand this if I was looking at this from their perspective’. If anything, it’s forced me to slow down (I talk REALLY fast) and use simplicity over volumes of information.

    Even this comment. Should someone care to read it or is it self serving? Partially the latter, but I hope others hear how it benefitted me and it inspires them to try this approach in addition to what Chris outlines above.

  • Pamela Kendall

     I recently wrote a blog for our company about speaking the customer’s language. We work with car dealerships so my focus was on simplifying the language, to not use “shop talk” to build customer trust. When a person comes in for a car repair and you start throwing technical terms at you, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will feel as though they are being “taken for a ride”. This is relevant in any business. 
    People use technical terms to express their expertise (I think), but if you really know your stuff, then you can make it make sense to any Joe Shmoe. 
    On an aside – I’m with Lilylatridis – Very impressive that your 5 year old is texting! 

  • http://twitter.com/John_Trader1 John Trader

     Great post Chris.  I work in the technology industry that uses big words and complicated terminology which I often have to translate into layman’s terms in the content that I produce.  I have found making comparisons of how our technology works to everyday life helps to put things in perspective and creates an atmosphere that people can relate to.

    One other thing that got me thinking about your post is the language that we speak with co-workers.  I have worked in many different environments often on teams with people who work in the same field and often found that even though we work together it doesn’t mean we understand each other.  Finding the balance and being able to interpret what a co-worker is saying (or what they mean) is so key to a well oiled organization.  

  • http://peterpaluska.com Peter Paluska

    I agree that it is important to meet people where they are, be they customers or children – maybe especially children!
    God, I cannot even imagine watching YouTube clips as a five-year-old! Looney Tunes all the way!
    Yes, it is extremely useful to become fluent in several different customer languages. Thanks for the straight-to-the-heart post, Chris!

    Peter

    • katBrogan

      He actually only watches fan made mash-ups and fan made shorts. He could care less about the original stream. So instead of the content being the point , it’s what other fans create out of it. That beats watchIng looney tunes any day ;)

  • Anonymous

    In a rather spooky way immitating language, even the way a group of people dress, was suggested by a friend of mine as a religious evangelism trick. I’m not religious myself but stepping into a situation and relating on levels is at times useful for communicating your message – including business situations. 

  • http://www.thegoodnessgrows.com Mimi Meredith

    I want to have a text exchange with Harold! I could use a little unbridled enthusiasm today :)!

    I love what @twitter-21246018:disqus added about carrying this mindset into work teams. Taking time to understand how our teammates–or family members, neighbors, and friends–process information is critical to developing relationships that convey honor and understanding. Taking time to understand when to talk Super Stick Man Harold theory and when to be straightforward is a huge gift you give your son. I wish more of us could share that kind of care with one another.

  • http://twitter.com/KatCaverly Kat Caverly

     ”Talk in their language” simple and spot-on. we can learn a lot about dealing with clients from dealing with children. Foremost we are gentle and kind (mostly) with kids and I believe that we should treat our clients with the same level of compassion. Mostly it is about listening isn’t it.

  • http://twitter.com/ReallyBigPeach Katrina

     The thing that strikes me about this, is the reminder to match the message to the medium. Just because you communicate with your customer (or child) one way with one technology, Doesn’t mean it will work for every technology.

    This also hast to be carefully matched to customers skill sets (just like a 5 year old) Yes, their smart phones have these capabilities…but are they comfortable enough with them to use them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jelena-Milosevic/1218601350 Jelena Milosevic

    Use your empathy and your knowledge!
    Give them what they want and need, not what you think they need. First you need
    to find it out, or just to do your homework.
    Nice comparison.
    Thx
    Jelena
     

  • Krishna

     Well said! P.S Your son looks just like you!

  • http://virility-ex-free-trial.holdtechtt.com/ virility ex

    You must have to Talking in their language, because if you have to talking in his language, he will very glad and happy.

  • http://www.InformationArchitected.com dankeldsen

    Chris – we seem to be living parallel lives lately. I’ve been putting far more conscious thought into how I write or speak with people on a regular basis.

    Speaking with people as they want to be spoken with, in their medium, with their language, at the time they want, is a far healthier, customer-centric approach.

    It’s amazing what a seemingly subtle difference it is, and yet how massive the impact can be.

    Can’t claim to be at your level at this point, but hey, we all have to strive for greatness no matter where we might be at the time, eh?Safe travels! Dan 

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  • http://www.goingpublic.us/ going public

    Fabulous post! speaking with people as they want to be spoken with, in their medium, with their language, is more effective business tools (customer-centric approach).by speaking in their language customer fell easy and feel secure deal.

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