"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." -Robert McCloskey
Someone emailed me with a great question, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it here this week.
I’m getting stuck trying to be authentic and wanting to make sure that people in a different industry understand with what I’m offering. How can I talk to my clients in a way that resonates with them but still feels authentic to me?
I love this question so much!
It hits on a great strategy entrepreneurs and creatives can use: speaking to potential and current clients in a way that “resonates with them.” In other words, speaking to your customers in their language.
You know, I remember when I was both acting and slinging drinks (the typical actor cliche), each world had its own language that made me feel like an outsider when I started.
Apple boxes, martini shots (acting, not the bar!), going 10:20, honey wagons, mo-cap, being pinned, craft services, 86'ed, SOS, auto gratting…you get the idea.
After a little while, those words and phrases became second nature to me, but if I mentioned them to someone outside of either industry, they’d think I had a weirdly timed, strange drink craving…or that maybe I needed help with my arts and crafts project.
Joking aside, this isn’t unique to the acting or bar world.
Every field has its own language, the words that click and speak to those “in the know.” It becomes second nature and before we know it, the words that at one time may have sounded foreign to us when we were newbies become a part of how we talk.
While it might feel nice to be part of the “in-crowd” and know the hip words that all the cool kids are using, it isn’t so cool when we get our business from clients in a different world.
To them, we might as well be speaking a different language when we use industry jargon.
It can be alienating, confusing, and in some cases a turn-off and cost us business.
Not only can we sound like know-it-alls, which come on, is a huge turn off, but we can risk not being heard at all.
We want to connect and be heard by our customers. We want them to feel understood.
Now, most of us have good intentions and aren’t going around trying to alienate customers and act like know-it-alls. Most of us care deeply and want to help our existing and potential new clients.
We often use this language without even being aware of it because it’s become part of our identity.
The more time we spend in an industry, the more it tends to influence our sense of who we are. This is where the concern of authenticity can creep in.
What happens when we strongly identify with our work and the words we use to describe it, yet our clients and customers come from a different “world’?
How can we authentically communicate? How can we do this without feeling like a fraud?
My offer to you is a perspective shift.
I’d love for you to imagine going on a trip to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.
Maybe you’d practice the language before you go. Maybe you’d buy an app or crash course in Rosetta Stone. But, you wouldn’t be fluent when you arrived on your vacation.
Now imagine you’ve just landed, checked into your hotel (or your Air BnB, if you prefer), and you’re starving.
You go out to find some dinner.
You stumble upon two pretty similar cafes across the street from one another. What you don’t know is they serve the exact same type of food.
Inside Cafe A, no one speaks English. They’re trying, and gesticulating, and slowly saying words you just can’t understand.
The menu isn’t in English, and it’s not one of those places that has the pictures on the menu. Your wifi doesn’t work here, so you can’t pull up your app to translate the menu.
How do you feel? Most likely frustrated, confused, irritated, and hungry. You cross your fingers and point to something on the menu.
Now, imagine across the street is Cafe B.
When you walk in, you attempt your best at the language and fail. The hostess, noticing you don’t speak the language, shifts into English! It’s a little choppy, but she’s able to hear and understand what you want!
Even better, she has a menu that’s translated. It’s cheesy, but they even put some pictures on it, so you’re able to see what some of the stranger sounding dishes look like.
How do you feel here? Most likely, relieved, understood, secure, heard, and helped. Oh, and you love your meal because you ordered what you like.
Silly examples, but the point here is, in both cases, no one was offering anything different.
Was Cafe B being any less authentic than Cafe A by speaking to you in English? Did you think, “Ugh, I hate these people, they’re so fake for trying to talk to me and have me understand the menu?” No way!
Was their menu any less authentic because it was translated? Heck no.
I’m guessing it made you feel better, made you feel more at ease, and less confused. Maybe it even made you feel a little bolder in speaking their language because you knew they understood you either way. Maybe you tried something new on the menu and liked it!
The authenticity didn’t change. The offering didn’t change, only the way in which it was communicated and understood changed, and that’s what made the difference in our example.
The same applies to the way in which we talk to our clients. There is nothing inauthentic by speaking in a way that people can hear you. I’d actually argue that we aren’t using empathy and our emotional intelligence to it’s fullest ability when we don’t do this.
So, M.T., I hope this helps you to see a different perspective on how you can communicate to your clients in a way they understand and still be authentic to yourself and your message.
Next week, I’ll take this a step further and jam on how you can learn your customers’ language!
Wishing you your version of success!