What your client’s really saying

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In the third and final part of this series, public speaker, coach and author, Roger Ellerton explains how your clients may communicate differently to express what they really want:

The words and phrases we use give away our world view. By listening carefully to a client’s communication style, we can work out what’s important to them and adjust our responses appropriately. And these are exactly the words you can use to motivate them. Listen for the key words and phrases that betray your client’s views, and use the same words and concepts to explain your offering.

The added advantage is that these words also have a clear meaning to your clients, reducing the risk of misunderstanding. Therefore, if they talk about ‘avoiding a potential problem’, then say that when presenting your offering, instead of referring to ‘mitigating undesired consequences’.


Towards people are focused on their goals. They are motivated to have, achieve and attain. They are clear about what they want.

Key phrases: accomplish, attain, get, achieving, goals, results and outcomes.

Away-from people often see only what may go wrong in a given situation; they notice what should be eliminated, avoided or repaired. They are motivated when there is a problem to be solved or something needs fixing.

Key phrases: avoid, steer clear of, prevent, eliminate, solve, get rid of, fix, prohibit.


Internal people have internal standards and use them to make their own judgments about you or your offering. They have difficulty accepting other people’s opinions. If they receive negative feedback regarding something they believe to be correct, they will question the judgment of the person giving the feedback. They assess the validity of information from outside sources according to their own internal standards.

You can motivate this type of person with the following phrases:

Key phrases: I just know, it feels right, I’ll be the judge of that, I know what’s best.

External people need outside direction and feedback to decide on the strategy that is best for them. Without external validation, they may feel confused. They will turn to you as an expert for your opinion.

Key phrases: according to the experts, your friends will think highly of your choice, is this the product most people are choosing?


Options people are motivated by the possibility of doing something in an alternative way. They enjoy bending the rules or exploring new ideas and possibilities. An options client may continue to explore other alternatives, even when the best one for their situation has been identified.

Key phrases: alternatives, bend the rules, flexible, unlimited possibilities, expand your choices, options.

Procedures people like to follow established rules and processes. They are more concerned about how to do something than about why they should do it. Bending the rules is sacrilege. A procedures person will be interested in the process, rather than the outcome. To motivate a procedures person, for example, state that there are five (or however many you have) critical steps to getting a financial plan. Tell them what these steps are, then lead your client through these steps in the order you specified.

Key phrases: correct way, tried and true, first, then, lastly, proven path.


Fight for your RIGHTS

Standing in your clients' shoes