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3 ways your conversation style can ruin a meeting

Whether you’re in sales, trying to start a business, get funding or are a product manager, customer contact is an essential part of your job. So don’t let these 3 habits ruin your customer meetings.

1. Holy cow!

Swearing (scientifically called profanity) is part of all our vocabulary, and sometimes it’s the only way to really express our feelings. But in a regular conversation, or when you’re doing your job, swearing can have a big impact on the message you’re bringing. We all know someone who uses the word ‘fuck’ in every other phrase. Or maybe we even do it ourselves. I know I’ve had periods where I’ve overused swearing words and I wasn’t very aware of it. It turns out that I picked up much of it from my close environment. I was working with a team of software engineers. Developing software can be frustrating at times, and engineers revert to swearing to express their frustration. It was only logical that I adopt the same language as my colleagues.

Your environment can have a great impact on the language you use, but we really need to stay aware of newly introduced habits. The engineering office might deserve the word ‘shit’, but a customer conversation won’t benefit from such strong words. In rare cases, you might really want to use swearing words to express your feelings, but do this consciously so that you don’t trigger a new habit. Now, take a moment to imagine how you would feel if someone is swearing all the time? What would be your perception of this person? Most probably not a very positive one. Science shows that positivity works significantly better than negativity.

2. Well umm, yeah, OK

In university I had a professor who finished every phrase with “OK?”. I totally lost focus during his lectures and decided to make a little counter script. The end result: in a 2 hour lecture, he said 500 times “OK?”. This was so dead obvious to the students, that the professor became ridiculed. But we all use filler words that are less obvious : “umm”, “yeah?”, “hele”, “jah”… (can you guess which languages they’re from?) In 2020, people’s attention is one of the most precious and expensive things. When you choose to waste it on filling words, you’re wasting precious time.

To the listener, you might come across as insecure, confused or as someone who likes to waste their time. Instead of filling time (usually while you think) with words, try silence instead. This is an incredibly difficult habit to rid yourself of, because we’ve been doing it our entire lives. But don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t succeed, just make sure to fix the other two.

3. Me, myself and I

Arrogance is not so much a habit as it’s a mindset. And it’s a very unproductive mindset. The Dalai Lama said: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you know; but when you listen, you learn something new”. When the only person you really care about is yourself, you won’t learn new things and you’ll miss out on great opportunities. Some people are incredibly sensitive to anything bordering arrogance and your first meeting might very well be your last one. Showing true interest in the other person is probably the best cure: it will encourage you to listen deeply, ask questions to elaborate and share stories encourage the conversation.

Many entrepreneurs do something very similar. Not because they’re arrogant, but rather because they fell in love with their solution. It makes them “sell a vacuum cleaner” without really understanding the problem their customer is struggling with. The conversation is a solution pitch, for a problem they might not even have. When you change the focus of the conversation to the customer’s problem, you’ll learn much faster and you can therefore deliver a solution faster. Read more about startup traps.


Here’s a video of Michael Seibel, CEO of Y Combinator. When you’re watching it, pay close attention to your feelings. Can you detect any of the 3 habits in his presentation? What’s your general feeling about him?

All of these habits are hard to avoid entirely. When you’re nervous, you will revert back to them. If you’ve been using a lot of fucks and shits in recent days, you’ll probably put one in your presentation. That’s why it’s so important to create this healthy habit during peaceful times. Language is an amazing toolbox for all our interactions and you should make use of it. You’ll benefit in the long run.

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Published inStartup

One Comment

  1. Moe Moe

    I can relate to the first one!
    When you are deeply focused on work (engineering) you tend to use a lot of “shit” and “fuck”.

    You need to be very careful not to take the same habit to official meetings!

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