As we close in on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I want to remember his life rather than his death. His speechwriters had a way with words, and President Kennedy had a way of delivering those words.

I was inspired by his words and his call to serve, starting with his Inaugural Speech on January 20, 1961. You can read the entire speech here. Even if you were not born in 1961, you have heard this line. Hopefully, it inspired you.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

Those were powerful and empowering words. They inspired a generation to serve.

I have previously written about one of his other inspiring quotes. This one was given in his speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I will save for another day, how lawyers can positively communicate with clients. My purpose in this post is to warn you and give some examples of words that send the wrong message.

I want to convince you to choose your words carefully when talking to clients or the senior lawyers for whom you work. We routinely use some of these words and phrases without thinking about how they might be received.

When a client has thanked you, have you ever responded: “No problem?”  What did the client think when hearing “no problem?” At best the client likely thought there was almost a problem. At worst the client thought it was a problem for you to help the client.

As a general rule, it is better to simply say: “You’re welcome.”

It always drove me crazy when I heard a young lawyer tell a client “no problem.” I think it is a generational thing with me. Years ago, I decided to do some research to find out if I was the only one put off by that phrase.

I found an interesting article for real estate agents by Howard Brinton. The title of the article was “7 Phrases to Avoid with Clients.” I liked the article because not only had Brinton chosen “no problem.” He also included several other phrases that will not help with clients. I will paraphrase some of them.

Phrase 1: Here’s your problem

Clients generally know they have a problem. They would not be visiting with you if they didn’t. As Brinson suggests, a better phrase might be: “Here’s our challenge.” A challenge is better than a problem and “our” is better than “your” because it denotes we are in this together.

Phrase 2: I’ll Try

Clients do not have confidence in lawyers who try or even try their best. “I’ll try” is code for I won’t succeed. Whenever I hear “I’ll try” from a lawyer I coach I know they will probably not do what they say they will try to do. Instead of “I’ll try” use the phrase “I will.”

Phrase 3: But, or Yes, But

Once again this is code for it won’t happen. “We can offer that much to settle your case, “but” I can’t guarantee we will be successful.” If you say that you have already decided you won’t be successful. As Brinson suggests use the word “and” instead. “We can offer that much to settle your case “and” if we are not successful we can take another look at it.”

Phrase 4: You should

My daughter, Jill taught me long ago that it was a mistake to use this phrase. She told me that when she was a teenager if I told her what she should do, she decided to prove to me I was wrong. “You should offer $1000.” Instead, Brinson suggests saying: “If we offer $1000…” or “We may be able to settle this for $1000.”

One final thought: As a general rule use positive words rather than negative words. To get the idea, read: Use Positive Words Rather Than Negative Words – Dianna Booher.