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You Need a Personal Messaging Strategy

The language experts from maslansky + partners take on the smartest, savviest, and sometimes stupidest messages in the market today. CEO Michael Maslansky and President Lee Carter bring their experience with words, communication, and behavioral science to the table — along with a colleague or client — and offer up a “lay of the language.” Their insight helps make sense of business, life, and culture, and proves over and over again that It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear™.

We’re all creatures of habit, and we default to certain forms of communication without even realizing it. But what if those defaults are actually hurting your daily potential? Whether it’s in a meeting, in a customer service interaction, or even in a negotiation, the way you set yourself up and communicate in interactions changes the outcome. Lee Carter is joined by Keith Yazmir and Ben Feller for an engaging, practical conversation on how to use language strategy in your everyday life — from putting your best foot forward in meetings, to getting your desired outcome in a customer service interaction, to setting yourself up to succeed in any presentation setting.

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Lee Carter’s book, Persuasion

Michael Maslansky’s book, The Language of Trust

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Lee Carter:

95% of your brain space should be in reading the room, in listening, in trying to understand what’s happening, in following up, so that you’re not just saying, at a surface level, “I understand.” I understand much more deeply what it is that you’re saying. And it’s really hard to do this with people that you might disagree with.

They said what? Welcome to Hearsay, a podcast from the Language Strategists at maslansky + partners, where we give our take on the strategy behind the smartest, savviest, and stupidest messages in the market today, and what you can learn from them. Our philosophy is it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. And that’s why we call this Hearsay.

I’m Lee Carter, president of maslansky + partners and an author of a book called Persuasion. And I’ve always known and been obsessed with how you frame things and how you phrase things can completely change the outcome, from interactions with customer service representatives to airline gate attendants, even conversations that we have with our parents growing up.

Keith Yazmir:

And I’m Keith Yazmir, I’m a partner here at maslansky + partners, and I get pretty obsessed with the why behind what makes effective communications actually effective. We going to lean a lot into the storytelling, into the context that makes communications actually work. Looking forward to having today’s conversation because, boy, do I have some ideas about the context that makes everyday language strategy come to life.

Ben Feller:

I’m Ben Feller, partner at maslansky + partners, and I love to help people turn big problems into little problems. So much that I wrote book for children about it. But the idea works for grownups too. In fact, I think it is imperative that we all understand how to make life more manageable every day through how we say things, and how we hear things, because we could all use some help with everyday challenges. And so I am very excited to get into this conversation and hear what you both think.

Lee Carter:

Oh, speak for yourself Ben. I never have every day challenges. No, I’m just kidding. You help me see that all the time.

So welcome back to another episode of Hearsay. Keith, Ben, and I are talking about the language strategy behind the every day, because we’re all creatures of habit and we default to certain forms of communication without even realizing it. But what if those defaults are actually hurting us in our daily potential rather than helping. Whether it’s in meetings or customer service interactions, and even in negotiating, the way that you set yourself up and frame things in each of these situations can totally change the outcome. And you can use language strategy even in your everyday life to win the day.

So let’s get right into it. We spent a fair amount of time talking about how language can create a first impression when you meet somebody. And one place where this happens a lot is how you show up at meetings, how you introduce yourself at a work event, and how you set yourself up from start. And Keith, this is something you’ve given people a lot of great tips on how you can show up in a way that gives you a lot more authority, or makes people think differently about you. So what are some of your tips on how to show up?

Keith Yazmir:

Well, I want to pick up where you stopped in terms of people defaulting. We talk a lot at Malansky + Partners about the fact that communications is fundamentally emotional. And what we mean by that is that audiences don’t hear us using their rational, logical, let me think about the facts, mind. They hear us emotionally based on how they feel about what we’re saying, not how they think about what we’re saying. The funny thing is, that’s what communicators do too. Communication from the communicator side is emotional too. We communicate based on what we believe, on how we see the world, how we feel about things. And in the professional settings you’re talking about, in meetings and interaction in the office, there’s also usually an element of nerves because the stakes feel pretty high. This is how you’re presenting yourselves professionally in the world. You feel a bit on stage, the spotlight’s on you. And we focus on the default or on just what comes to mind, in our mind.

Now, let me give me a few examples. In a meeting where people are introducing themselves, and particularly for our more junior colleagues, there seems to be a default to things like, “I’m Sally and I’ve been at the company for two years. Oh and this is my first experience in your industry. So I’m really excited about that.” So in my mind as Sally, I’m telling you, I’m excited to be involved in this project. Ben and Lee, what do you hear me saying as Sally?

Lee Carter:

You don’t have any experience working with people like me.

Ben Feller:


Keith Yazmir:

Yeah. More senior people often say nothing because they’re senior, and they knew who they are and a lot of their colleagues know who they are. But the people often you’re meeting with, especially in today’s online world, they don’t know who you are. It comes down to our catchphrase about it. It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

What we talk to our people and also our clients about is, start with what your audience cares about. If you’re dealing, like we do, as an agency with clients, what are you doing to help me as a client, and what equips you specifically to help me? Have you worked in my sector? Do you have experience with my company? Do you have experience with me or people who work with me? Tell me specifically why I might care. In short, put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask yourself the only question that matters in communications, why should they care?

Lee Carter:

Such good advice. One time I was giving a keynote at a major pharmaceutical conference, and one of the things that I always am very aware of when you’re getting set up for a presentation is the person who sets you up and what they say about you. There’s almost nothing worse as a speaker when somebody takes your bio and reads it like, “And Lee has experience with Fortune 500 companies doing things like,” and it’s just clearer that they’re reading it.

But here’s the thing that was even worse than having somebody read that. There are hundreds if not thousands of people in this enormous room. And this is one of my biggest presentations right after I wrote my book. And no one sets me up. There is no intro. The music starts playing and somebody in the back that sends me up to the front of the stage, and I just go right into my presentation on my book, Persuasion.

I’m about three minutes into the presentation when I realize they have no idea who I am, why I’m here, and why they should be listening to me on this big stage in the middle of a pharmaceutical conference. You can read the room. I’m talking about something that’s totally outside of the pharma business. I’m like, “You guys have no idea why I’m here. Let me just tell you for 30 seconds what this is all about. Let’s back up.” The presentation changed focus entirely. And I was like, “Dang. That’s why it’s so important that those people read off a piece of paper to introduce you.” And if somebody hasn’t done that for you, you better do it for yourself because it’s going to change the outcome of how people view you from the start. Because you need to answer exactly what you’re saying, Keith, why do I care about what you have to say to me?

Keith Yazmir:

I love that example because it shows another critically important element of communications, which is of course, not how well you speak, but how well you listen. And paying close attention to how people are reacting is going to help you successfully communicate with them moving forward.

Lee Carter:

Totally. That’s something that we need to remember. This is about creating a connection where there’s trust between two people. We’re exchanging information, they’ve got their experience, we have ours, and we want to be able to trust each other.

Keith Yazmir:

Ben, you’ve been in amazing ranges of different professional settings. I’m sure these issues come up for you a lot. What’s your take?

Ben Feller:

Yeah, the idea of reading the room is so important, and I’ll borrow your move here, Keith, by giving some context to this. We are in the language strategy business, and people tend to hear that and focus on the language part of it, which is, what are the words that you can help us come up with to change perceptions, and shape behaviors, and get outcomes? But language strategy also involves the strategy, the strategic point of view. For me, being a good language strategist involves active listening at all times. To Lee’s point, it goes to the mindset of, I have to think like my audience and make them care. I need to start this meeting or this presentation by making clear to them what the definition of success is. Why are they here? How is it worth their time? What is going to happen to what can they expect? You talked about how people tend to introduce themselves at meetings or not, Keith.

Ben Feller:

You talked about how people tend to introduce themselves at meetings or not, Keith. Another thing that people tend to do in business settings, in social settings, is they get nervous when there’s silence. It’s those little three to five minute windows of our lives that can set the tone for the next hour. Instead of just filling time with whatever pops to mind, how do you prepare for that?

Well, what you would do if you had a couple minutes with somebody before everybody else got on, maybe you could ask them how their meeting went, the one you knew they were preparing for. Or ask them how their trip went, that they were excited about. Something that connects the moment and the time to them. This is the key that people need to think about. As much as this moment might be about you, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

So instead of asking about the weather, or something that everybody would do, show that you’ve actually listened and were paying attention to them. And by the time the meeting actually starts, guess what they’re doing? They’re nodding their head. Yeah, right. I know. Thank you for remembering that.

The power of the head nod, whether it’s on a screen or in person, is so amazing to me. Because what you’re not trying to do in those moments is get them to agree with you, to at least point you’re trying to get them to connect with you. And so it’s like, okay, so everybody ready? Here we go. Well, there’s momentum. This is somebody I want to spend time with. This is somebody who’s made this moment about me.

Those things just don’t happen by experience or habit. They tend to happen by people who prepare really well. And say, if I’m in this situation, I’ve got this in my pocket. If they look like they’re in a light mood, I’ll go light. If they look like they just got off a heavy call, I’ll read that room too. But just be ready. Be mindful of what the audience is going through and that’ll set you up.

Keith Yazmir:

I love bringing this back to the human element. Because Lee, as you said, and Ben, you just reinforced, It’s about emotion and it’s about human interaction. There’s the great story about Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister, who before he became Prime Minister, he’s in a very tight race against his opponent. And there was a famous starlet at the time who, probably apocryphally, had dinner with his opponent one night. And then by luck had dinner sitting next to Benjamin Disraeli the following night.

Journalist asked her about the opponent, whose name, of course I do not remember, “How was dinner with this opponent, potentially our next prime minister?”

She said, “I left dinner feeling like he was the smartest, best looking, funniest, most charming man in Britain.” Pretty good.

Next night she eats with Disraeli. Same journalist, asks her, “And how was dinner with Disraeli?”

Her answer? “I left that dinner feeling like I was the smartest, most beautiful, most charming person in Britain.” Disraeli won.

There’s a very, very valuable element there, Ben, in terms of how we deal with other people.

Lee Carter:

Those kinds of stories really brings it home.

Ben, you made a really important point. You need to prepare for these moments. And often, the beginning of the meeting, that five minute blank moment, we’re not always prepared for them. And something else that I see a lot is people ask you for your bios, right? There’s a collection of bios that gets put together, and people often don’t take time to edit them.

This is the bio that is on your webpage, and I’m going to send it no matter what. And I’ll never forget, I had a client who, he’s very, very senior of this organization and his team clearly had him prepared for the meeting. And he had all these printouts.

And he holds up this piece of paper and he waves it. And he says to me, “So I got your bio. It says that you’ve got a lot of experience, but I know nothing about you. Tell me why I should listen.”

And I was like, oh, Jesus. It was really scary. But also, what a lesson. What do you put in front of people that introduces you? It makes a difference. And so you need to invest the time to make sure that you do it, and make those edits for each introduction. It’s worth the extra time.

Ben Feller:

Yeah. I’ve been introduced in a important moment for me by someone who not only read from the bio, but read only half the bio. I have two careers. I was a journalist for 20 years, and I’ve been a consultant for 10. And in this case, both of those careers were really important to this setting, and he just read the first part. And made everybody who didn’t know me, which was a lot of people in this room, think I was still doing that.

So not only was it reading it, it left an inaccurate impression. Which I then had to correct deftly in the context of my comments to say to people what I was doing now. So now what I do is I go so far as to write the intro for them. And say, I’m honored to be here, but if it helps, here’s some comments. And I curate it in a tight fashion to that audience.

And sometimes it’s straightforward, and sometimes it has a little light moment about my son or something tailored to the audience. It assures that it’s going to be set up right to the audience. It’s not about my ego, it’s about setting up the audience to hear me right.

But also, there’s already enough X factors. How’s the speech going to go? How’s somebody going to react? What question are they going to ask? Is the mic going to work? You shouldn’t have an X factor about, are you introduced well?

Don’t you want to start your presentation, or your meeting, or this big moment and take away the factors that might trip you up? Well, what are they going to be? Well, you know what they’re going to be. So go ahead and account for them.

Keith Yazmir:

That’s really interesting. It also happens to explain my confusion about the two Nobel Prizes that I heard about in your last presentation.

Ben Feller:

There was just one, yeah.

Keith Yazmir:

We talked a little bit about this idea of being an active listener and how in fact, for successfully communicating in the workplace or in any setting, listening is as important, if not more so, than communicating.

Lee, can you dive in a little more into what that means

Lee Carter:

When we’re communicating, there’s the side of you that’s listing out all of the things that you want to get out there. That is usually where we’re spending most of our energy.

In our job, we interview groups of people to find out what they think. And in that conversation, I have an agenda. I need to make sure I know what they think about seven different topics. And when I first started doing this, it was 99.9% of what was occupying my mind. Because I knew I had to accomplish all of these things during a session. What I didn’t realize is that that should only be about 5% of your brain space, your agenda.

95% of it should be in reading the room, in listening, in trying to understand what’s happening, in following up. So that you’re not just saying at a surface level, I understand. I understand much more deeply what it is that you’re saying.

And it’s really hard to do this with people that you might disagree with, with people you might not understand. And for us, we’re often talking about all kinds of topics that we’re not steeped in. So I need to understand how a physician feels about treating a cancer patient. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but I have to really be able to listen clearly to everything they’re saying. And sometimes what they’re saying on its surface isn’t exactly what you need to know. There’s something underneath it.

Active listening forces you to have enough room to be curious, to be open. If that means that if you’re having a conversation, you need to be extra prepared, you need to dismiss your agenda, you need to shorten your agenda. Whatever it needs, you have to have that space to be clear on what’s happening all around you. That to me, is what active listening is all about.

Keith Yazmir:

I love that. Ben, what is your take on this active listening role?

Ben Feller:

Well, you had mentioned earlier, Keith, how all this comes back to human connection. In active listening with a group of people, whether in person or online, one thing I found myself doing a lot is connecting dots during the conversation.

So you’re working with a client and his name is Matt, and he talks about the financial pressures that they’re under. And then halfway through, his colleague Ellen says something about how there’s low morale in the company. And then Tom says something about confusion on what the goals of the company are. And you’re seeing a line that connects all of those points, and how you can be helpful.

When we provide a solution, it’s not just, well, here’s what I’ve been hearing and here’s a way forward. I say, “I just want to take a second. And I’ve been thinking about what Matt said, and Ellen said earlier, and then Tom just brought it back up to mine. I think there’s a through-line that connects all of your thoughts and here’s how we play into it and how we might be helpful.”

You’ve not only pulled them out, right? Because all they see are the dots, they don’t see the lines, but you’ve also connected it to them personally that you’ve been listening the whole time and…

Ben Feller:

You’ve also connected it to them personally, that you’ve been listening the whole time. You remember what they said. You’re attentive to detail, you’re using their names. That’s part of what they expect from language strategists is to pull them up and elevate and find the through lines, but also they want to work with somebody who’s actually treating them like people and not just taking down findings and data points, which we’re going to turn into a deck and send back to them. These are conversations about stresses and challenges and hopes and aspirations. And the more that you can play back to them as people, what you’re hearing and connect them to their colleagues, you’re making that human connection. That’s really active listening. We do this often afterwards, but if you can do it in the moment when they’re there and start to give some feedback in real time, it connects you more as people. That’s so important in the listening process.

Keith Yazmir:

I think of active listening in a couple ways. One, it’s almost a little like defensive driving. Your driving teacher, if you took driver’s ed, always taught you not to assume that others are going to follow the rules so you’re always looking out for something challenging or difficult and you’re ready. We should never assume that the other person is perhaps being as clear as they should be. One option is to blame them and say, oh, they’re just not a good communicator, but when you’re in a work setting, especially if they’re a client of yours, but if they’re a colleague of yours, equally important, figure out, put in effort to really get underneath what they’re saying. So to, Lee, your point around having your agenda and just waiting for them to finish their sentence so you can get yours in, you’re missing a lot. And to your point, Ben, about the human element, you’re also probably making colleagues feel ignored. The feeling is the most important element. So we want to really think about how we can concentrate and almost help them. What could they be saying? If it didn’t make sense, ask questions.

Ben Feller:

Yeah, I love that, Keith, and it actually reminds me of a series of interviews I did for a project, and the most important point I heard was from the very last speaker, and it was the very last thing that the speaker said. And the reason why I bring that up is that from a active listener’s point of view, it is human nature to want to wrap things up, especially if you’ve been doing a lot of one thing, but to the person being interviewed, they’re not the last person, they’re the most important person.

This is your time with them. And if you make them feel like they’re the last one and don’t bring the same energy and listening skills, it’s going to show up. And I remember being vigilant in this interview because I brought that mindset into it. You can’t treat this as if you’re excited to be done with this. You have to treat this like this is the first interview and you’re starting fresh. We don’t know when the points are going to come. We think about it as a process. They’re thinking about these as individual moments, and you have to show up for all of them.

Lee Carter:

All of this is making everything about them, not about you. This actually plays pretty well into our next topic, which is how can you use language more effectively when you’re dealing with customer service representatives? So now I realize that might seem like an awkward segue, but it’s not. I’m in the middle of this experience right now where I just closed on a home. But right before then, the title insurance company found an open building permit from 31 years prior. So I had to go to the building department where everybody is really upset and really stressed out because they’re all dealing with issues related to their homes and what’s more personal than their home, right? There’s six people in front of me line. Each one has a bigger story, more stress, more emotional. Two people were in tears about what was going on. I was about in tears.

And I thought, “Oh my gosh, this poor guy who’s just giving the people the paperwork that they need to fill out is getting lambasted by every person who’s taking out their personal situation on him.” Must be a horrible, hard job. The last person was so incredibly rude to him. So by the time I got up to him, I said, “I don’t know how you do it. This is a really hard job.” And he said, “Tell me about it. Some days I just can’t believe the way people treat each other.” And it started our conversation from a totally different perspective. I started with him rather than me. I could have gone in there and been like, “I can’t believe this, 31 years ago this happened and I have to close. And it’s, oh my gosh.” And that never would’ve gone anywhere. But I connected with him. I could tell him my story, and we were able to get things resolved really quickly. I don’t think many people start out conversations that way.

Ben Feller:

You’ve hit it such an important point, and it matches up with what we were saying earlier. If you start with the premise that it’s not about you, it’s about them. And it’s backwards because with customer service, you would think their job is to help me. It’s right in the title. They’re not invested in solving the problem the way you are. It’s your problem. They may or may not solve it, and they’re going to go about their day. You’re still going to have the problem. When I know that I am winning a customer service moment, you can tell that you’ve moved them off the script to authenticity. Oh, let me tell you about it, my day’s rough. Well, that’s not on the script. You’ve connected in a human level, and it’s when the entire tenor of the conversation moves from confrontation to collaboration, whatever is causing you to call customer service, almost by definition something’s wrong and you’re probably frustrated.

When you bring that into the conversation, even though you’re justified, it just sets up a confrontational tone. All right, I’m sorry to hear that, let me try to help you with that. Well, that’s also on the script. So when they say, “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” And I say, “Hi, my name is Ben Feller. I’m a customer in New York City. How you doing?” And it almost always disarms them. They’re like, “Oh, I’m fine. Thanks. How are you? Thanks for asking. All right, let me bring up your file here.” It’s like, okay, we’re starting to connect here. And I say, “Before you jump in and go through the steps, do you need anything for me to get into my account? Do you need my security code or…” “Oh no, I think I’m good. Why don’t you go ahead?”

“All right. Let me just give you a little context. So I’ve been at this for a while. You’re not the first person I talk to.” And the whole tone is bringing them into your story. Why? Because you are trying to get something from them. That’s what customer service is. You’re trying to get an outcome from them. And if you disarm them and ask how they’re doing and make it more of a human connection, you’re in it together. During the pandemic, my wifi at home was not working, particularly frustrating in a very frustrating time. I had people come and they were sending me machines and they were asking me to run tests and we’re going to send you a tower. It’s the wrong thing. We can’t come in your home. It’s a pandemic, hours and hours on this. Finally, a guy came and I told him what was happening.

I said, “Listen, I’m in a bad way here. I know this probably seems like a regular visit to you. Something’s not working. This is actually the most important thing going on for me right now. I cannot connect with people and it’s causing me time and stress and I just need your help, please.” And he said, “Brother, I am not leaving your apartment until we fix this. That’s my word.” And he spent hours on it. And when he fixed it, I said, “How would I know what you did?” He goes, “There’s no way you would know. All the people that came before me, Ben, they didn’t know either. You need somebody who comes and looks inside the basement, pulls the cable lines, look at how they’re tethered from the outside and it took three hours. And my company’s furious to me because I spent the time.” But he is like, “You really felt like you needed the help, and it’s my job.” And I didn’t, but I wanted to hug him. Right? I did give him a nice tip.

Lee Carter:

He deserved it, but well done. It’s so hard to stay not emotional in these moments. It’s hard because there’s a lot at stake for each of us, but when you put it in terms that somebody can relate to, rather than pushing them away with something like anger or shame or guilt, when we invite them into the problem and let them in, it totally can change the outcome. I love that.

Keith Yazmir:

What’s striking me about this is, other than, Ben, listening to your tips about how I’m next going to deal with customer service, is we do so much work with companies around the world in terms of helping them transform their customer service scripts and guidance to their personnel from the formulaic, average and typical ones that drive all of us here crazy to much more connected, much more helpful, much more efficient, and getting people helped. And the advice is often very similar. What is good customer service? It’s empathetic. It’s personalized to me. It’s not making the problem my problem. It’s friendly, and it’s not entitled. Thinking about the companies that really surprise you and that you say, “Man, I had a better experience having a problem with this company that I’ve had, having just perfect smooth sailing with other.”

Keith Yazmir:

… Problem with this company that I’ve had, having just perfect, smooth sailing with other companies. That’s the company that actually does everything you guys have been talking about proactively. And it astonishes me that more companies don’t invest more in that because it rebounds on their brand, on efficiency and on repeat customers.

Lee Carter:

Keith, it’s interesting because when there’s an industry that gets associated with negative customer service experiences, it becomes an impact on the reputation. If you think about the insurance industry, by and large, we don’t think, “I’m so thankful that I have protection.” Right? We think, “I’m at odds with these people who are going to keep me from getting my payment.” When really, that’s not the way that we should view this. We should view these companies as companies that have taken on risk, that our providing for us in some of our worst moments. But the way things have been set up and because customer service is often so bad and because the way communication happens, it’s set up in the wrong way.

Ben Feller:


Keith Yazmir:

Yeah. We have so many examples. Another that comes to mind is some work we did a couple years ago for a luxury car company and they were asking us to transform how they responded to customer requests and complaints because they had been getting increasing numbers of complaints from their very well-heeled customers. And one of the big takeaways from this work was that in the internet age, the quality, the craftsmanship and the brand recognition of a product is less important than the quality, the personalization and the empathy of the service that goes behind that product. We help them shift their communications from focusing on the luxury elements of what they are selling to the feeling and the experience of how they were selling it and, most importantly, how they were doing after service and other elements like that.

Ben Feller:

I would just add, Keith, that the connection you’re making back to the companies that we help is exactly right because so much of what we spend on with them is about being audience-focused on human. I’m really glad we’re doing this because it really does tie back to the core of what we do every day for our clients. It’s all the same stories. How do we put ourselves in the position of our audiences and how do we communicate what they need to hear? And it goes to active listening and preparation.

And I will kick off our popcorn round to end this podcast. The question of the session is what is one conversation you had this year where someone changed your mind and why was it impactful to you? And I will kick this to you, my friend. Lee Carter.

Lee Carter:

I’m actually going to share a pretty personal one. A number of my family members live in Sanibel Island, which was hit by a very, very bad hurricane in early October. And a number of my family members chose not to evacuate. We ended up losing contact with them for three days. They had to be airlifted off the island. It was really, really terrifying for everybody. There was a lot of judgment that was going around about how could they not have left. I was just relieved and thankful that my family was okay in the end of it. When I had a conversation with my aunt, who was among them, about her experience and how it happened that she ended up staying, my mind was completely changed.

I went from, “How could she possibly have stayed?” To, “Oh my gosh. I don’t know how you did it.” She started to explain to me the sequence of events. She went through all of the iterations. She has pets, she has all these people to take care of. By the time they realized that the hurricane was taking a turn, there was nowhere for her to go except for the shelter and that really scared her. After that conversation I went from any judgment to saying, “Oh my gosh. I can’t imagine what those 24 hours of painful decision were like on how to decide if you stay or if you go.” And it would never have happened if I didn’t get curious and ask the question what was her experience like.

I think it’s really important to take the time to listen to someone else’s perspective because you’ll hear that there really often are valid reasons for why they feel the way they feel, why they did what they did. They’re often misunderstood. And this happens across the board, whether it’s about companies, politics or religion. Understanding someone else’s why can totally change the way you’re going to view what they did.

Keith Yazmir:

Lee, I love that. It’s such a great distillation of everything we do. A lot of our partners and clients talk about their customers, their stakeholders, as not acting rationally. And it can feel that way, especially in commercial communication when you know the facts yourself are correct. But by taking that time to understand what’s the context, your aunt is acting completely rationally. The secret is understanding what is that logic based on? And once you understand that in the communications perspective it unlocks everything in terms of what you need to know.

I had trouble with this until I started thinking a little bit more close to home. And this morning I took my four year-old daughter to school and they were having their pre-K bake sale outside and she decided she wanted a chocolate lollipop so I bought her a chocolate lollipop to support the school. Halfway into the school, she changed her mind. She didn’t want the chocolate lollipop. She wanted the gift bag. And sat down. I spent a fair bit of time trying to explain to her that she had made her choice and I would have been happy to buy her whichever she wanted but she decided on the lollipop and that’s what we had and we were late for school and we needed to go in.

Strangely, she was unconvinced by this. I ended up dragging her in, giving her to her teacher as sometimes happens with this particular child, but then coming out and purchasing the bag to give to her tonight. And the way this is changing my mind is a great distillation of what we talk about when we talk about language strategy. I was using logic. I was using facts to convince her why she’d made her choice, she should be happy. She was using pure emotion, which was, “I no longer want the lollipop. I want the bag of candy.” And there was nothing I could say that would get through. We were speaking literally different languages. And that’s in a lot about what we do as language strategists. We identify what do you need to be doing to actually address the audience that almost invariably is speaking a different language.

Ben Feller:

Love it.

Keith Yazmir:

All right. Well, thanks guys. This was really fun. Thanks to Lee Hartley Carter and Ben Feller and the whole team behind the HearSay podcast. For more language insights and to be in the loop on all the other fun stuff we’re doing, follow up on the maslansky + partners LinkedIn page. Join our mailing list at That’s all for now. Join us next time on HearSay and remember, when it comes to truly effective communications, it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.