Mothers & daughters, sellers & buyers

Who said language doesn’t matter in making relationships work?

In an interview with Deborah Tannen, whose new book, You’re Wearing That?
Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation
, has just hit the top sellers list, the New York Times and Tannen have this exchange:

“Q. Many of the women you’ve interviewed for your new book complain of mothers who criticize their appearance. Are they right to be annoyed?

A. “Right” and “wrong” aren’t words a linguist uses. My job is to analyze conversations and discover why communications fail. The biggest complaint I hear from daughters is: ‘My mother’s always citicizing me.’ And the mother counters, ‘I can’t open my mouth; my daughter takes everything as criticism.’

But sometimes caring and criticism are found in the same words.

When mothers talk about their daughters’ appearance they are often doing it because they feel obligated to tell their daugher something that no one else will.

The mother feels she’s caring. The daughter feels criticized. They are both right.

What I try to do is point out each side to each other. So, the mother needs to acknowledge the criticism part, and the daugher needs to acknowledge the caring part.

It’s tough because each sees only one.”

Tannen adds, “If you understand how conversational styles work, you can make adjustments in conversations to get what you want in your relationships.”

This is true for conversational styles between sellers and buyers as well. Any seller’s first challenge is to get the attention of the other person.

Often, the language sellers use gets in the way of that. Sellers have a way of talking that is instantly recognizable to the rest of the world. And in my classes, thousands of people, themselves in sales, say that when a seller starts talking, they want to run the other way.

How would you know if you come across like one of those sellers people love to hate?

Here are two tell tale signs:

1. They speak to us in technobabble – as if they forgot how to speak like a normal person. Glyconutrients that impact at the cellular level is not how normal people talk. Save the jargon for talking with each other. Sellers must relearn to speak in a human voice if they want to engage consumers – that’s us, all of us. We want to speak to people who speak our own language.

2. They hype. E.g. They make big promises about what will happen when the person buys their thing – but how can they keep a promise about someone else’s future? Or they give us the bombastic boasts – “We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ…” But no one that matters is listening. Consumers have become immune to this kind of fake communication.

Attention is in short supply. No one has time to give you their attention. To get it, you have to tell them something interesting, and in the first ten seconds. One way is to learn to tell an authentic story – yours, using a human voice that others can instantly relate to. (See “If My Product’s So Great, How Come I Can’t Sell It?” for suggestions.)

If you can’t get someone’s attention with the words you use, how can you hope to start a relationship?

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • Ever the undiplomatic contrarian…

    >To get it, you have to tell them something interesting, and in the first ten seconds.

    Personally, I don’t even try to cram it into such a short slot. If that’s what they want I’m already in the wind. The ‘ten second thing’ is best used to get Attention… from which can be birthed that unholy trinity of Interest, Desire and Action.

    The world’s full of people who ‘want it all, now and free’ – and marketers who suggest we provide for them. To even attempt to do so quickly gets you a free ride on the hot rail to marketing hell. Be sensible… ‘right’ is a helluva lot different (and better) than ‘right now’.

    >One way is to learn to tell an authentic story – yours, using a human voice that others can instantly relate to.

    Something that cannot be faked, learned, bought or sold… there’s already too many dabbling in ‘authenticity’. One of the last things we need is hordes of NM-ers leaping on that bandwagon delivering stuff about as real as Disney.

    How many in this business actually bother to know – really know – what they’re selling… rather than just regurgitate the corporate line? Metaphorically, just a handful.

    So how’s about we purposefully ‘don’t learn’? And instead just be natural… ourselves – with all the goofs that entails. ‘Turn up on time, tell the truth, smile – ask for the business’.

    ‘Rain Cloud’? Sure. Better that than the fake ‘Nine Cloud’ upon which many do their stuff. Having said my bit, I’ll now go stand in the corner with the Dixie Chicks – come boo if you want.

  • Kim,

    Great post. I read it the other day and was reminded of it this morning when I had a guy out to measure for a new bedroom rug for my daughter.

    Guy (seller): “I’m surprised they recommended the synthetic pad in the showroom. I’d recommend upgrading — we usually install the rubber-fused foam eight-PSI density #10 in bedrooms. I’d recommend upgrading.” (Or something like that.)

    Me (buyer): “Uh…huh?”

    Bottom line: is that REALLY the way to upsell a customer, by confusing them and making them feel completely uninformed?

Leave a Comment