Words are powerful. The language we use in a casual conversation, a text, or in the boardroom can have extraordinary power and impact.
Words can equally destroy, limit, or curtail meaningful progress or conversation.
I recently came across a powerful new book, Expensive Sentences: Debunking the Common Myths that Derail Decisions and Sabotage Success, by Jack Quarles. He discusses the sentences or phrases that can derail progress and stop results.
I’m a student of good communication and have been all my life. And Jack’s observations and practical book upped my game immediately from Chapter 1. I’m sure you will enjoy learning to recognize these sentences and strategies and how to handle them as they arise.
Jack Quarles is the founder of Buying Excellence, a company helping businesses choose the best vendor possible. He is a specialist on expense management, negotiations, and increasing ROI.
How to Spot the Expensive Sentence
Give us an example of an “expensive sentence.”
Skip, here are a few I’ve heard in the last week:
“I’m too busy to look at that now.”
“She’s the only one who can do the job.”
“It’s too late to change our plans.”
They surround us. Sometimes they take the form of proverbs, like, “You can’t change horses in mid-stream,” or “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Others can be very localized, like, “Our boss isn’t interested in new marketing tactics,” or “That’s just Ted being Ted.”
How are expensive sentences related to poor communication?
Unfortunately, Expensive Sentences have the effect of ending conversations and stopping communication. For example, imagine that you and I are discussing which consultant to hire for a project, and I say, “Well, you get what you pay for.” That phrase has weight; it sounds wise and definitive. You will probably think I am quite set in that position (of hiring the higher-priced consultant), even though I may only be 60% sure that it applies here. I’d be better off qualifying my words before they define our decision, and you might be smart to gently respond, “Yes, it’s often true that you do have to pay for higher quality… but is that true in this case? Or could that be an Expensive Sentence?”
Myths that Drive Decision-Making
Jack, you debunk many common myths that drive corporate decision-making. And then you give suggestions on how to handle them. I’d love to delve into a few, starting with, “The customer is always right.” You give examples of where customers are mistaken. Would you share one and the implications?
In the book, I share about a meeting I took part in with the CEO of Five Guys, Jerry Murrell. They’ve grown with a franchise model, and so they have customers who run restaurants (franchisees) and customers who eat burgers (“French fries-ees” – sorry, couldn’t resist!) Lots of people associate burgers with milkshakes, and a common request/complaint is that Five Guys should sell milkshakes. Other customers would love to see turkey sandwiches or coffee on the menu.
Murrell sees these potential expansions as diversions; he has always been laser-focused on burgers & fries. The chain prides itself on being the best reviewed restaurant in the world, in part because they serve such limited fare. If they were to start offering other items, they’d be graded on the average of their full menu, and Five Guys is not confident they can make what would universally be considered the best milkshake or turkey sandwich or cup of coffee in the world. (Burgers & fries? Done.)
There are only two reasons that our customers are “wrong” with their requests: either they add too much cost for us to serve them sustainably (i.e., profitably), or they lead us in the wrong direction, away from our core business. We must be clear and confident about our business model to avoid letting customers steer us in the wrong direction. This can be tricky because sometimes we need to experiment, and business models can evolve. But over-responsiveness is a proven path to exhaustion and losses.
Five Guys is an extreme example of focus (even within the restaurant industry), but note their success. Clearly, it’s not “wrong” in the abstract to want a turkey sandwich or a milkshake with your burger; the point is that’s not the kind of experience that Five Guys is offering.
How wide-ranging is your “menu”? Where does your business draw the line? What are the wrong kind of customers? Do you currently have a client who might be better served by one of your competitors? These are great questions to discuss with your team.
How about one of my favorites: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” What are a few possible responses to that expensive sentence?