On Words I Would NOT Use

At a recent Firm of the Future Symposium with the THRIVEal Network in Greenville, SC, Ron Baker and I were asked about some of our word preferences. On the spur of the moment we developed this quick list of words we believe should be avoided by professional knowledge firms.

Staff – This makes us think of a type of infection. We prefer team member, colleague, associate, or people as alternatives.

Client – In ancient Rome, the lawyers of the day functioned as public servants and were not paid for their work. Instead, they were appointed to their duties in working with their clients. The relationship was not one of equal status and implied a sense of duty and obligation to serve the great unwashed. The word still has this connotation in the context of social workers and their clients. We prefer the term customer which is an Anglo-Saxon word derived from the fact that it was the custom of certain people to frequent a particular place of business.

Value billing – Nothing will set a VeraSagi (our made up and officially adopted name for someone from VeraSage) off into a tirade faster than calling the pricing practices we espouse value billing. A bill is produced in arrears whereas a price is agreed to upfront. This term is linked with professionals when the do write-ups to a time calculated bill. We believe this practice to be more akin to mail fraud. The preferred terms are value pricing, pricing on purpose, or pricing with purpose. When discussing price with a customer we suggest the term fixed price or open (meaning transparent) price.

Fee – This word has a negative connotation as it is associated with governmental and penalty type incursions. We suggest the use of the more neutral word price.

Hours – We believe the only place time spent should matter is in prison. We would ban all use of the word hour and suggest a $5 fine whenever it is used. There is no acceptable substitute.

Training – Horses and dogs are trained, humans are educated. Training implies a bullwhip lashing sounds in the background. Also, do you want your 16-year-old daughter to get sex training or sex education.

Service – We believe most professional firms do not provide services. They provide access to and/or transfer of knowledge, results, objectives, and occasionally goals.

Did we miss any of you favorites? If so, please leave a comment with the term to be avoided and your suggested alternatives.

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST

11 thoughts on “On Words I Would NOT Use

  1. DISC profiling…oh wait, that’s not a word. But your thoughts on the uselessness of it were well conveyed. DISC = bad, Strengths = good (or at least okay).

    BTW, you guys were awesome! So glad I attended! Will work on NEVER saying “value bill” 🙂

  2. Great post!
    I have been looking for a way to articulate my preference for ‘customer’ over ‘client’, and I like your explanation alot. Maybe you can get the Verasage web site changed! I hadn’t been there for a while and visited today, the home page reads:
    “…we challenge the professions to break free of practice methods that hurt the professions, undermine their purposes, and fail their clients.”
    Ouch, they use the word client! 🙂

  3. Pingback:A quick tip about interfacing with other people | Summit Diary

  4. Hey Ed,

    I’ve got 2 that drive me nuts;

    Think Outside The Box – My suggestion is to get creative with you’re thinking.

    Our Solution Is Robust, so are non robust solutions anorexic?
    My suggestion is to ask the right questions and then determine whether or not your solution will fulfill their needs.

    The last thing that anyone should be doing is getting cutesy with $3 words when a $1 word will work just fine.

  5. Thank you Ed for sharing you list! I still find it hard to articulate when talking about services. I’m trying to find a way to say it without using the word “service” but in a way that customers will understand what I mean and not having to explain that I don’t like the word service.
    Changing my vocabulary from “training” to education has been easy.
    I look forward to see you in March.

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