Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The psychology of "inclusive we"

In grammar, there's an inclusive we, which means you're including the addressee, and an exclusive we, which means you aren't (not to be confused with the royal we, which is just...you, being snobby). Wiki's definition does a good job of illustrating the distinction.

What I'd like to throw out for consideration today is the power of using the inclusive we during the sales process—and I believe it's critically important for a freelancer. When I'm in a prospective client meeting, the sooner I can get a prospect to think of me as a member of his or her team, the better. As an example:
  • Outside Consultant Voice—"Your large email database makes an e-newsletter an affordable option."
  • Team Member Voice—"It'll be a slam-dunk to generate ROI for our e-newsletter." 
  • Outside Consultant Voice—"What's my deadline?"
  • Team Member Voice—"What's our timeframe on getting this completed?"
It's a subtle shift in psychology by being conscious of the words you use. On the other hand, you don't want to overwork it, or make the shift too soon, lest you come across as presumptuous (or pompous, a.k.a., being mistaken for the royal we). You need to have established some basic rapport for it to be credible; which means being sensitive to the client's demeanor. (Which is what it all comes down to in sales, anyway!)

So, are we on the same page? I thought so.


  1. 100% in agreement. This is one of the first things I blogged about, "The Power of 'WE'"...

    When I was 23 years old, a woman named Wendi gave me one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received to this day. She said, “Don’t ever use the word ‘I’. Always say ‘we’ when you’re talking about a success story, a new idea, anything; whether it be to a partner, colleague, or manager”. At the time, it made sense – but I thought it was kind of a ‘sales’ tactic. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out if you say, “we”, others are going to subconsciously feel a part of what you’re doing; especially if it’s a success story or an idea that will be successful.

    It’s taken the last few years to realize the importance of that “we”. It is not merely a ‘sales’ tactic, but it defines a culture. The culture of companies like Pixar or Google. I didn’t “love” the last company I worked for and could never put my finger on the reason why; great vision, smart people, etc. but it hit me this morning…in meetings, it was always, “MY marketing campaign is driving $1 million in revenue” or “I will have the highest conversion rate”. It was a bunch of egoists. Now, I don’t have a problem with egoists as I believe most of us can be one some of the time. The reason I started blogging was so I could be an egoist…write about what I think and about what I want…but I did not bring and work hard to leave the “ego” at the door while doing business.

    What I’ve learned is that Pixar’s philosophy is not brain surgery; it’s the basics of any team oriented business model. The difference is that everyone, including the CEO, buys into it. They live it, breathe it, and it has become their culture. Hats off to Pixar and hats off to anyone else who works at a company where “we” beats the “I”.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jamie. I like your angle of "buy in," because I think that's the implication of using "we" -- in this circumstance, it's a way of communicating that your fate is intertwined with the client's. And yes, I've used sales fairly bluntly here, but the application can be far broader!