I recently purchased a 2-cycle weed trimmer, and as I was reading the safety instructions something dawned on me. The same warnings for this power tool also apply to the words we choose to use. Sometimes our words are like a weed trimmer. We hack away without thinking and when we’re finished, we look around and see a pile of relational rubble around us. One reason we’re not constructive with our words is we don’t realize how powerful this tool … our mouth … is.
I remember what people say to me, especially when they are hurtful. You too remember certain things people say to you in a careless way, even as far back as when you were a child. That’s how powerful words are. So when it comes to your mouth, think of it as a power tool and be extremely careful with it. Let’s take some advice from my new weed trimmer’s operating manual:
- Be familiar with the controls and proper use. Know how to stop and disengage the controls quickly.
- Stay alert. Do not operate the unit when tired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Inspect before use. All guards must be installed properly before operating.
- Careful inspect the area before starting. Clear the area of children and bystanders.
- Do not overreach.
- Never operate in an explosive atmosphere.
In the Bible, we are taught to build each others up. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Now, it should be clear how to apply this in your personal relationships, but let’s look at how to apply it to business. The challenge businesses have is to train, reward or permit their frontline teammates to properly and effectively use their mouths as power tools. Most organizations don’t do this. The most common unseen situation is the customer who leaves because of a broken system that does not empower people to constructively use the power of words to exert emotional labor to create human connection when it’s most needed.
The fact is most customers just want to be seen and feel heard at that precise moment. They don’t want to hear, “I’ll speak with my manager and get back to you.” They don’t want to be stonewalled, the byproduct of bureaucracy and systems that are designed to delay because all teammates are not treated equally, like professionals and adults who have good problem solving skills and can exercise sound judgement. No, no, no, those skills are only possessed by a chosen few, i.e. managers, supervisors or executives. Hogwash.
The alternative for businesses who actually care is to humanize their culture by training, incenting, and empowering frontline teammates make customers feel heard. This doesn’t mean customers are always right, but it does mean they will feel good about the experience and outcome. Why? Because they will feel a connection to the person with whom they are speaking and, in turn, with the company. The transformative skill in establishing this type of connection is tactical empathy. Where’s there’s empathy, there’s connection. Where there’s connection, there’s trust. Where’s there’s trust, there’s a loyal customer.
To master tactical empathy, one must master the use of words to establish connection. Don’t just use words to make the customer go away, but to understand what you can do for them. They have feelings and want assurance you feel them too. In addition to hearing their story, share your story with them and take the time to help them feel seen. This will humanize their experience with you and your company.
By engaging the customer who was “harmed” in some way and finding out, beyond being seen, what would help them move forward, establishes connection and loyalty. Note that it’s impossible to make complete amends, but that’s not the point. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about feeling heard.
It’s like a work of art when it’s mastered, it all starts with learning how to properly use the most powerful power tool … your mouth.