Business Writing Essentials

Parrot Language

Let's say you write with no errors. And your style is clear and easy to read. In school that was often enough, because you usually had only to prove to your teacher that you got the right answer.

Now you're at work, and you have to convince your boss that your conclusion is the best conclusion: for your boss, for your division, and for the continued economic viability of your employer. Even more, you have to motivate your boss to act. A lot is on the line. Being persuasive counts.

To persuade readers, you must first gain their trust. A subtle but effective way to do this is to speak their language: use words and phrases that match their personality. One of the more important personality traits is the direction of their motivation. People are usually motivated in one of two directions: toward objectives or away from obstacles.

Some people Achieve Goals - they are motivated to move toward objectives.

Words they use include:

accomplish, achieve, attain, get, obtain, make some progress, let's finish, meet our milestones, what I want, that'll allow us to

Other people Solve Problems - they are motivated to move away from obstacles.

Words they use include:

fix, solve, prevent, eliminate, avoid, get rid of, it's not perfect, let's find out what's wrong, won't have to deal with

You can use this technique every day at work as you communicate with your coworkers. You may be surprised at how differently and quickly people respond when you use their language.

Note: This technique doesn't work on everyone. About 20% of people are motivated in both directions equally. Good luck with that.

So how do we put this theory into practice? Use a simple sequence of three steps:

     1. Listen to their words.
     2. Identify their personality.
     3. Speak their language.

Example: Imagine you are in charge of operations at a factory that builds trumpets. Too many customers are complaining that the lacquer is wearing off in the first year of use. The manager of the coating department had this to say:

If it's true, then we have an issue we need to deal with. We will find out what's wrong, but my guess is that if we can prevent outside humidity from entering the coating department, it should solve the problem.

The salesperson at the company that supplies lacquer had this to say:

We will work with your coating department to find an answer. I'm sure we can make significant progress with a few working sessions. Improving lacquer adhesion is often achieved with better environmental controls.

You write the following emails to them:

Thank you for being willing to investigate and find a solution. I will schedule a meeting to discuss things and identify what will allow us to obtain a longer-lasting finish.

Thank you for being willing to investigate and fix the problem. I will schedule a meeting to discuss things so we can find out what's wrong and and prevent it from happening again.

Which email do you send to the manager of the coating department? Answer: the second email. It uses words that resonate with a person who solves problems.

This is both art and science, and mastery can only be obtained with persistent attention, careful study, and unavoidable trial and error.

Question: Isn't this "speak their language" kind of manipulative?

Answer: If you're going over to the dark side, yes. If you're writing to accomplish something good for your employer, no. Consider what you do when you vacation among people who don't speak your language. How do you think they really feel when you at least try to speak their language? The parrot language technique is subtle and usually undetectable, but when it is used respectfully and ethically, it's definitely appreciated by your readers.

Lesson: Parrot Language
Module: Influence
Course: Business Writing Essentials