Using “We” Language to Build Bonds with Clients

My wife and I typically visit family on the weekends, which involves a couple-hour drive and spending the night somewhere. She loves to have the house cleaned before we leave. That’s her goal. My goal is to leave on time. Those goals don’t line up very well unless there is a strong partnership effort.

We don’t fight often, but we have been known to get a bit agitated on Saturday mornings. It took a few late departures (house was always clean, though), before I realized it was a communication issue. We both had goals, but we had to learn to talk about them as mutually shared goals.

What Do “We” Have to Do?

The important part of having mutually-shared goals is actually understanding the other person’s goals. My idea of a clean house, and my wife’s, are (as I learned) completely different. She used to think, because I am a designer, that I was detail-oriented about everything. For example, she wasn’t going to tell me to clean the stove top; she thought I would see that it needed to be cleaned.

She was wrong.

I could have understood her goals and asked, “What else do you want cleaned?” But that would make her sound like a taskmaster imposing her goals on me. Instead, I’ve learned to ask, “What else do we need to do before leaving?”

Once I started using “we” language, we were able to get the house cleaned and get out the door on time(ish). It was a simple change, but the inclusive language created a stronger partnership.

Injecting Yourself into Your Client’s Business

Using inclusive partnering language in a marriage is a no-brainer. Using it with your client may seem unnatural, but it has the same results.

Employing “we” phrases makes it seem like you are a part of your client’s business—even an employee. It also adds validity to design work you are presenting or strategies you are discussing.

Currently, I am working with a great client on a complex software solution that is responsible for running their entire business. We regularly present new design work for upcoming features and review completed development work. I always try to use “we” language when talking about how features work or daily tasks people are trying to accomplish.

I’m not responsible for analyzing sales data or building market strategies. But, when I present work, I say things like, “When we are looking at sales for yesterday, we can…” or, “We can go here to set up…”

Shared Responsibility, Shared Success

Using “we” language creates a powerful partnership between two parties which may not inherently have the same goals. Sure, we can both say we want software that meets user needs. But one of us designs and builds it, and the other one uses it.

Presenting conceptual and finished work in terms of “we” implies that we are together on this journey. It reinforces that I have the upmost confidence in what I am presenting. Not only have I validated it based on research and strategy, but I’ve also put my personal filter on it.

“We” connotes empathy. I don’t present work as meeting “your” goals, but rather “our” goals. When we work toward shared goals, we reduce tension in the client vs. consultant relationship. Instead, we create a client + consultant partnership.