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The Martial Arts of Language

The Martial Arts of Language

I’ve often spoken and written about the sequence I discovered over a decade ago: language controls discussion, discussion controls relationships, and relationships control business. The problem is that so many professional services providers don’t use language well or underestimate its impact.

Here’s a specific example of just one of the techniques I coach and teach: changing content into process.

Situation: A buyer says to you, “We have four different insurance products that need promotion, but only enough staff and budget to promote two well, and we need help as to whether that should be a whole life, term, universal, or combination line.”

Don’t debate insurance products. Instead, reply, “It sounds as if you have a critical decision to make, and that will involve clear objectives, creative alternatives, and risk evaluation, as well as all appropriate stakeholders.”

What you’ve done is taken the insurance content and adjusted it to your process strength of decision making.

A buyer says: “We are seeking to improve our already strong ability to create just-in-time product response for our priority customers, especially in the home improvement division.” Your response could be: “My experience overwhelming demonstrates that ‘raising the bar’ as you’re trying to do, should involve four types of people and possibly two others, depending on your business. Would you like to discuss them in priority order?” You’ve taken a very technical delivery issue of a certain product line and changed the discussion into your process strength, consensus decision making (or project management, or whatever).

I call these devices “the martial arts of language” because they take the momentum of the discussion and allow you to alter it in the direction you need to close the business.

Never get sucked into the client’s quicksand of content. Learn to move all routes to your strengths and frame the conversation most beneficially to you. You’ll get to your destination—signed proposals—much faster.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 5

  • Ryan Nagy

    June 24, 2010

    Thanks Alan. “The Martial Arts of Language” sounds like the genesis of a new Alan Weiss workshop. Would love to purchase another framing teleconference or audio when you have one available.

    – Ryan

  • Alan Weiss

    June 24, 2010

    There is a CD on my site called The Language of the Sale, FYI. And there are two on Framing.

  • Phil Symchych

    June 25, 2010


    Thanks for the powerful reminder that our best content is process.


  • Ryan Nagy

    June 25, 2010

    Thanks Alan. Every CD that I buy from you I convert to mp3 so that I can listen to it on my iPod or computer. I had to go back and check the hardcopy to figure out what I have. Looking forward to the buying the CD’s that you mentioned.

  • Rob Novak

    June 28, 2010

    “Never get sucked into the client’s quicksand of content.”

    I love this line! Thanks again for the insight. How often do consultants, mired in the inner workings of clients’ technical or logistics puzzles – usually self-induced – feel like we’re grasping for that loose Banyan vine to keep from sinking? And why are there always vines near the quicksand in movies anyway? 🙂

    This almost always happens “onsite” where their rules, processes, and culture get in the way of forward momentum. I was just there a week ago…

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