There is a common belief that hangs around in there, being told by every person thinking they are visionaries and being generally confused with a brilliant lifehack. Have you ever heard of the phrase “It’s not about what you say, but it’s actually about the way you say it.”? I know you have, and if you haven’t, let me make a quick explanation for it: basically, what this stands for is guaranteeing that the content of whatever you are communicating doesn’t matter as much as the extra-linguistic factors (such as tone, body language, and other aspects that make a conversation).

And don’t get me wrong, I definitely agree that the manner you choose makes up for 50% of what the recipient of the message will be interpreting, but not everyone in the world is clueless enough to completely ignore what you are actually saying. That’s why today, my friends, we’ll be deep diving into how to combine the way to say things, and the correct choice of words to say. So let’s jump right in, shall we? 

So let’s imagine your client asked you to have a certain list of things done by a certain time, so then you can review all of it together. And the day of the review comes, but you have completed 20% of the things you were supposed to have done. So you come into the meeting fully confident that your talking skills will get you out of the trouble, and you explain to the client how awesome the work you’ve done is, and tell them very happily all about that accomplished 20% of things. But then you reach the point where you have to tell them that that’s all you have to show them, and you carefully choose to say “–but since we paid so much attention to these things in order to make them look so perfect, we ran out of time to complete the remaining tasks.” And it sounds awesome in your mind, but guess what: your client will probably not think of the awesomeness of all the other things you did, but of everything you didn’t get done instead. 

You definitely don’t want to see yourself in a situation like that, but life happens and at some point, you may have to be there and give explanations, so it’s important to know how to do it. The attitude of the imaginary situation doesn’t just lack complete will to take responsibility for your actions, but also a genuine apology, and being able to show your client that you really care about them. And there are MANY situations where you can end up looking like a complete j*erk out of very poor word choices. And of course, your clients will not want a j*erk handling their projects. So let’s jump right in and see everything you should consider in order to communicate smartly, and not end up looking terribly!

Avoid sugar coating

This rule applies more to communicating with employees than clients, but we might as well try and apply it to both of them. I have never met anyone in the world who likes being told “Hey I love how you did this tiny thing, BUT this whole other thing was terrible”. It feels like you are being taken for a dumb person who can’t bear criticism, and it also feels a bit like being lied to. There is nothing wrong with taking out the goods and the bads out of a task someone performed, but whenever you are including a “but” (or synonyms) to whatever feedback you are giving, think twice. The clearest and transparent, as long as you remain respectful and have a positive attitude, will always make for better results and a happier environment. 

Beware of j*erk-ish like words/language

Every language in the world has a bunch of phrases, words, or even tones that just creates a hostile environment of feeling among the people you are talking to. And that definitely makes you look like a j*erk. Some examples for this could be the phrase “as I said/told you…” (which implies either that the person is not smart enough to understand you, or that they are not paying attention) or having a condescendent tone. So, as a general rule of thumb, avoid condescending, irony, passive-aggressiveness, and, if possible, saying anything that implies you are better in any way than the person you are speaking to. Keeping a light, positive, improvement-seeking attitude will always make everyone around you feel better and do better. 

Be honest from the beginning, but don’t throw yourself under the bus 

If we go back to the imaginary situation, we’ll find that there is a big communication problem there, given that the person started off the meeting as if everything was awesome, and it turned out it was not. Life happens and there can be times where you’ll have to give bad news to people, and you won’t be able to avoid that. In most cases, if you are honest early on, and you also bring up a couple of solutions to the problem you are explaining, people will be comprehensive and not want to kill you for it. However, if you wait until the last second to bring up the issue and leave it for them to solve it, then your clients (and everyone) will definitely want to kill you. 

Note that this doesn’t mean that you should tell your clients about every minor inconvenience you have because that will also make you look a) incapable of handling the project, and b) incredibly annoying. So always make sure there is really no immediate solution to the situation before you go ahead and explain the bad news, and also figure out the most honest way to say it (of course without just coming in and dropping the bomb). 

Mind your attitude

The way you say it is obviously very important. You can’t show up to a meeting where you’ll have to apologize for stuff with a body language and tone that is telling everyone you don’t believe in the apology or an attitude that shows you believe you are better than everyone else. Just as you can’t present to your clients an idea you think is awesome with a very shy tone and attitude, almost making it sound like you don’t believe in it. So even if you have to fake it (and you will), figure out which attitude best fits your situation, and own it! 

Read your audience 

The bottom line here is: there is no certain formula that gives out the best way of communicating with everyone you’ll ever know. Different people come from different places and have different expectations from you, and you’ll have to be able to communicate effectively with all of them. So, as a conclusion, the most important thing is to understand who you are talking to, what they want from you, the one thing you need to express to them and choose carefully the way you will do it.