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Say you urgently need a coworker to turn in a report to get the ball rolling on a project, but they've been dragging their feet. Time is running out. What do you do?

You could send an email that gets right to the point: "When are you going to have this done by? It needs to be completed by the 30th." But that sounds awfully demanding considering that you're not this colleague's manager -- and maybe not even their friend.

In this circumstance, most people would send a message that sounds a lot more like this: "I'm just wondering when you will have this finished. As you know, the project is due on the 30th." 

The tonal difference hinges on just one small word -- "just." The addition of "just" in the second sentence softens the blow of the request and adds a hint of empathy.

However, it also makes the message much more wishy-washy. This might be a fine solution for a coworker, but it's certainly not a desirable outcome in a sales situation. 

Inserting words such as "just" or "actually" or phrases such as "I'm not sure" before a statement is called "couching," and it's not a good technique if you want to sound self-assured.  

"You’re trying to make other people feel comfortable and not come across too strong," explains Ginny Mineo, content marketing manager at HubSpot. "In certain situations, it’s a great tactic. But in other situations, it can make you seem weak."

In a sales engagement, the addition of "just" can take a negative toll on a buyer's perception of a seller fast. Consider the difference between the following two phrases:

"I think you might consider X model, because ... "

"I just think you might consider X model, because ... "

In the second version, the speaker reveals their insecurity and makes it clear that they don't have the upper hand. And this makes it much easier for a prospect to refuse their suggestion. After all, if the salesperson doesn't sound totally committed to an idea, why should a buyer be?

Although "just" adds a certain amount of empathy to a statement, salespeople should never sacrifice clarity or directness in their speech. An alternative to using couching phrases for this purpose? Soskey recommends first being empathetic, and then direct. "Address your audience's fears and feelings before you unapologetically offer advice," she writes. "Then, be very direct about why you disagree or believe something else."

Here's how the above example sounds using this technique instead of "just:"

"I understand you might have some reservations about X model. But I think you might consider it, because ... "

Clear, direct, and not rude in the slightest. It's just a better approach. 

Verdict: not recommended.

sales email templates

Originally published Feb 16, 2015 9:30:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

Topics:

Sales Credibility