Subtle audible cues can speak volumes in business. What you say is almost as important as how you say it. During a conversation with another employee or at a conference, we often give verbal cues about what we mean. This is even more true when it comes to customer interactions. What you might perceive as a minor verbal cue could send a signal to a customer that you are annoyed or impatient. Here are the cues to avoid.

1. Sighing

I'm serious about this one--the sigh is a barely audible cue, but it can be a killer. I spoke to an insurance adjuster recently and had to repeat a number three times because of a cell phone problem. On the third try, he made a heavy and exaggerated sigh like I was doing something wrong or ruining his day. It's a shame. I ended the call and felt this person had represented the company so poorly that I considered finding a new agent. (Too bad they offer such low rates.) A better solution? Go ahead and explain to someone that you're having a rough day. It's too easy to interpret a sigh as annoyance.

2. Throat clearing

It happens. You get a frog in your throat or you have a cold and just can't help it. Understood. Yet, clearing your throat can send a message to a customer that you've become impatient, annoyed, or even angry and you want to convey that in a subtle way. Don't. It's best to count the cost of showing annoyance or impatience to a customer. Let's say it takes someone a few extra minutes to fill out a contract and you decide to wait and make idle chitchat. You might keep the customer. What if you clear your throat in annoyance? The customer might decide to ditch you.

3. Sarcasm

Did you know you can say the same phrase in a polite, uplifting way to a customer or you can say it in a way that sounds demeaning and rude? It's all a matter of voice inflection. On a recent visit to my dentist, the receptionist confirmed my next appointment by asking if I will make it next time. Of course, you can ask that question because someone has been ill or busy with a deadline (ahem). It's only fair. Or you can imply, with a sarcastic tone, that the person is lazy (she picked the latter option--I'm looking for a new place to get my teeth cleaned). My advice is to be careful with sarcasm and use it rarely.

4. Saying Hmm

Sure, we all make nonverbal gestures that show annoyance. It's hard not to when someone asks to return a product at your retail store three months after the purchase date or shows up at your training session 15 minutes late and asks you to repeat what you just said. The problem is when you reveal just how irritated you are in a way that's condescending. Saying "hmm" is a prime example. A better option is to voice your opinion in a calm, reassuring way. Explain your return policy. Remind someone at the training session to be on time. Communicating directly is always the best approach. The main lesson here? Don't leave communication open to interpretation.

Published on: Aug 20, 2014
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