Let Me Call You Sweetheart: Minding your words

Words carry weight. We have different sensitivities or reactions to these language molecules based on our life experiences, culture, race, gender or socio-economic level.

Words have the power to make you feel mighty and competent, appreciated and loved, or admired and honored. Conversely, they can make you feel disrespected, angry, excluded, diminished or unimportant.

Context, nuance, tone and intention affect how the target audience listens to and hears your message. The originator of the message is also part of the equation — we’ll accept some language from one source while it would be off-putting from someone else.

Here’s an example I encountered recently. I was in a tennis drill. The pro split us into two groups: one with himself; the other with a young college kid intern. Since we were all paying the fee for a pro, getting a rookie was already raising my hackles. So, when the newbie started calling me “dear” and “sweetheart,” I did not receive it well. Since I’m not a Southerner, I don’t enjoy being called those terms of endearment from anyone who is not my significant other, a close friend or relative.

Why is this offensive to me?

  • It assumes an intimacy or relationship that doesn’t exist.
  • It feels disrespectful coming from someone who is much younger and a stranger — He is insinuating himself as a peer.
  • But, most importantly, I am a paying customer and you just don’t speak this way to clients (unless you are Flo at the diner). The pro would not EVER speak to any of this way. That’s what separates the men from the boys…literally.

Words can be a balm or a sword. Cultivating a respectful, relevant and appropriate vocabulary for each client profile will help your message be heard, leave the customer feeling understood and valued, and will lay the foundation for a strong business relationship. Leave your “sweetheart” at home.