Stop You-ing People by Cynthia Greenawalt

Stop You-ing People If You Want Referrals (and How the Brother-in-Law FactorTM Can Help!)

{5:42 minutes to read}  One of the most costly “hidden habits” in networking is how we use pronouns; namely, how we as a culture default to the use of the 2nd person singular pronoun — you — when standing up to do a self-introduction before a group of people.

I’m going to get a bit geeky here, but if you stay with me on this, it has the power to double referrals in the settings where you network.

Recently, a client invited me to be a guest speaker at her networking group. While I listened to the attendees take their 1-minute spotlight to introduce themselves, I observed in bold relief how most professionals doing business in the United States automatically use the pronoun you when describing their services to a group of people.

For example:

  • “If you are looking to get a better grasp on your financial planning strategy…let us help you explore your options…”
  • “If you’re not happy with your CPA and want personalized service, I’m here for you…”
  • “If you’d like a more powerful web presence for your business…we can help you…”

There are two main reasons business owners and sales professionals in the U.S. make this mistake and don’t even know they’re doing it:

  1. Most of us have learned to explain our business using language that is a match for a prospective client sitting in front of us. They have offered themselves as a candidate, they want to know what we could do for them if they were indeed to come aboard, and hence, the pronoun “you” is completely appropriate. However, it then becomes a hidden language habit for us to stick with the 2nd person singular in every setting — even when it doesn’t fit.
  2. The other reason is the English language itself. When an establishment wants to indicate to tourists that French is spoken there, they will post a sign that says, “On parle français,” which tells people, “One speaks French here.” In the English language, we don’t typically use the pronoun “one” — which is 3rd person singular. If we were to use it, our sales pitch might sound something like: “If one would like to expand one’s reach on the internet, one would use our services to create a strategy for leveraging the various social media channels.”

Of course, using the 3rd person singular pronoun “one” in this manner sounds ridiculous, so we default to the 2nd person singular pronoun of “you.” This can be one of the most counterproductive words in our networking and social capital development efforts, because it subtly puts the other person into a state of being pitched, being related to as a “potential end user” or “target prospect.”

When your audience at a networking group is not in the market for your services, using the pronoun “you” in your self-introduction will create a disconnect in their brain (“ok, this message doesn’t pertain to me…”), and their focus will easily be pulled away by any one of the other 20 things begging for attention in their busy life. They will literally stop listening to your message as they realize their coffee needs a little more creamer.

Peak performers understand that habits at the level of language (i.e., embedded in the wiring of our very thinking) are some of the most challenging patterns to reprogram. These top achievers know that the real question here is this:

How do we override this deeply ingrained language habit of defaulting to the pronoun “you” when describing what we do?

The answer is what I call the Brother-in-Law FactorTM.

Let me explain: Any time you have an opportunity to explain what you do to someone who hasn’t expressed an interest (yet) in becoming a prospect, the key is to treat them as a potential gateway or strategic alliance. This takes the pressure off of them and they don’t feel prospected. Unfortunately, the cultural habit of “you-ing people” gets in the way when attempting to win over someone’s trust so they are motivated to refer their clients and colleagues to us. The most powerful way to disrupt the habit of “you-ing people” is to imagine — as we stand up to do our self-introduction — that each person sitting in that room literally has a brother-in-law who does what we do.

For example, let’s say I’m a CPA and I’m about to address the members of my networking group with a self-introduction. Before I speak, I imagine everyone in the room has their brother-in-law doing their taxes. I imagine that 20% of the time, the brother-in-law is one of the best in the business and he’s the one to whom my group members will naturally refer their best clients, and that the other 80% of my group members only use their brother-in-law for their own needs.

The magic lies with the 80% of your networking colleagues whose brother-in-law is just good enough to do their taxes or list their house or design their new logo. This 80% who use their brother-in-law for the services you provide would never send their best clients to him!

The 80% might be “married” to using their CPA brother-in-law for their own needs, but they are “unmarried” when it comes down to who they would recommend to their clients in need of a phenomenal CPA (or whatever it is that you do).

What this means is that you are auditioning for the 80% who are “in the market” to refer business to you. And this requires that you upgrade your use of pronouns, that you trade in the use of “you” (2nd person) to the use of “he” and “she” (3rd person singular) and “they” (3rd person plural).

Look out for PART TWO of this blog to discover a game-changing tool that steers us away from the sales-pitch habit of “you-ing our audience” and effortlessly has us use language (and the correct pronouns) for winning over our audience and unlocking referrals!

Cynthia Greenawalt

Cynthia Greenawalt

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