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The Four Disastrous Phrases

By May 21, 2019September 6th, 2019No Comments
leadership words

There is a way to immediately become a better Sales Leader, but it requires practice and diligence. It can be summarized in one word – evidence. As Sales Leaders, we are overloaded with too many things to accomplish in any given day. As a result, it can be a challenge to focus on opportunity discussions with our people to uncover the critical details.

Our conversations usually involve levels of inspection and natural questioning to arrive at a set of conclusions, but those are generally based on false information. Sales Leaders must begin asking for evidence in their opportunity coaching sessions. When listening to your people, start asking for specifics. What was said? Who said it? What did you read? What events took place? A simple statement like, “what is your evidence for that?” can quickly reveal the obstacles to creating a clear and accurate account/opportunity picture. Hearsay has no place in any future conversations about opportunities.

When asking for evidence, there are four disastrous phrases that must immediately be banned from future opportunity discussions.

  • I suspect
  • I assume
  • I believe
  • I THINK (this is very common!)

These four disastrous phrases – rather than leadership words – are used repeatedly in opportunity discussions. They are dangerous and lead to false conclusions. If anyone uses these phrases in a conversation, they are essentially saying “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, these phrases are provided quickly with no restraint. Our brains are desperately attempting to close gaps in information to create a cohesive narrative. The other challenge is people are not conditioned to admit they don’t know something – especially when they think they should. We tend to make up things unintentionally. You can imagine the amount of false information that is generated when both the Sales Leader and the Salesperson are using these four phrases on a repetitive basis!

It is counterintuitive for some, but actively creating an environment where “I don’t know” is acceptable, will result in more open discussions, greater levels of transparency, and better strategic approaches. This simple and effective change will generate a culture of honesty within the sales ranks. Once we are more aware of their common use, we will be amazed at the difference created by not using these phrases and replacing them with leadership words. Salespeople must also hold their colleagues and leadership accountable to help ban the four disastrous phrases. Business Leaders and Sales Leaders with years of experience are particularly liable to fall into the trap of their usage. The more experience we have, the more scenarios we have seen. Our brain recognizes similarity and patterns. The processing of patterns leads to projecting past situations onto new situations. We begin to extrapolate information from prior experiences into new and unknown environments. This is a classic mistake and one that must be guarded against.

As a Sales Leader, you have your own unique style and unique leadership words. Ultimately it is your decision how to communicate within your organization. Banning the use of the four deadly phrases will create an immediate and lasting difference in the quality of communication around opportunities, the level of transparency, and the amount of learning that will take place amongst your salespeople.

Have fun with it and ask everyone to participate in banning the four deadly phrases!

It’s not what you know that is impressive. It’s what you don’t know that will lead to failure.

Personal Challenge: Immediately implement a ban on the use of the four disastrous phrases. Begin to focus on them in your discussions and ask your organization to help you by identifying and calling out their use. Reinforce it in meetings and in other communications.


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