Missing component.
Here’s an excerpt from a news story I saw last week:
“I don’t know.” Alexander Kuzmin, the 33-year-old mayor of Megion, has banned this and 25 other phrases as a way to make his administration more efficient, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.


“It’s a suggestion to the staff that they should think before saying something,” Oksana Shestakova said by telephone. “To say `I don’t know’ is the same as admitting your helplessness.”
At first I thought this was silly, another weird Russian program like yesterday’s breeding day. It’s true, look it up. Yesterday was a holiday in one Russian province so people could stay home and “mate”. The goal is to have a baby on specific date 9 months hence. If that happens, the lucky mom and dad could win a SUV. This is a means of building population and is typically Russian.
But would simply banning certain phrases actually change the way people think? On second thought, I think it would. The last line in the excerpt is very insightful.
I’ve proposed banning certain phrases as part of a customer service overhaul to many clients. I hate to hear, “let me see what I can do”. That puts the customer in a role of being at the mercy of customer service. That may seem like an adequate stategy but it generally backfires. The customer will play his part and await the verdict of the moron that would use a phrase like that but if things don’t go the way the customer expects he will very quickly lose patience. Have you ever wondered why some customers seem to get angry so quickly when you are trying to help them? If you compel people to play a subservient role and then fail to deliver, they’ll rebel and take charge of the game. Usually the customer will then force the customer service representative into the subservient role. Anyway, that’s the dynamic at work.
There’s something important missing from the Mayor’s program. If you are going to ban certain phrases or behaviors, you must provide substitute phrases and behaviors. Training is absolutely vital.
Management will often scold bad behavior but without training it’s really counter-productive to do so. The person who is unable to think quickly on their feet will be at a loss for words if you take away their normal responses. What IF they really do not know what to do? Isn’t it natural to say, “I don’t know”? People have to be trained to say, “let me find out for you”. Point: Discipline without training is useless.
Training is a process not an event. Success can’t be achieved in one session. It needs to be taught and then reinforced over and over. There’s a reason I chose the picture for this entry.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog