The 3 Most Important Phrases In the Entrepreneurial Vocabulary

A little humility and good manners avoids many problems and solves the rest.

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By Lida Citroën


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business school teaches you how to manage profit and loss, navigate unpredictable markets, and attract key talent to your organization. Over time, as successful business owners and entrepreneurs, you find your groove and build your brand, but what you may fail to realize is that there are three simple phrases that are not always taught in business school that can completely catapult your brand and business.


In the course of a day, you send hundreds of email communications, post on social networks, and interact and communicate with clients, staff, and stakeholders. How often are you saying, "please" in those communications?

Before you answer, really think about it. The last time you asked your assistant to make a dinner reservation for you and a client, when you recently dropped off your dry cleaning and asked for extra starch in the collars, when a client was delayed sending in payment and you had to follow up, did you say, "please" as part of your communication?

Related: If You Want That Customer, Mind Your Manners

Maybe you did. Congratulations. You are one of the entrepreneurs who knows that your business would not survive without the assistance and support of those around you. Sure, you pay your employees and vendors to work for you, but do they put their heart and soul into making sure their work for you is their best? They will if they feel appreciated and acknowledged. "Please" goes a long way towards making someone feel valued.

"Thank You."

When Abraham Maslow introduced us to his "Hierarchy of Needs," he illustrated that humans need to be validated, feel safe, and be acknowledged in order to reach their potential. When people don't feel acknowledged and accepted, they can fall into despair, or worse. As an entrepreneur, you are enlisting the services and support of those who you hire and surround yourself with. When you can support someone's basic needs for esteem and appreciation by saying, "thank you" in a sincere and impactful way, you are serving mankind and your fellow human in their quest towards self-actualization. Plus it's just plain nice.

Think about how these small and simple gestures often go unnoticed and unappreciated:

  • A stranger holds a door open for you.
  • Your assistant handles a client call because he knows you're at lunch with your new in-laws, and it might take a while.
  • The dry cleaner puts the extra starch in your shirt collars because you always ask but this time forgot to.

Most people would instinctively say, "thanks" or "thank you" as we pass through any of those instances. But are you really saying, "thank you"?

Related: Good Manners Are a Career and Business Necessity

Try this, next time you want to thank someone, stop what you're doing, look them in the eyes, and put the emphasis on the "thank". Pause for a count of three, and see what a difference your heartfelt appreciation makes to the person to whom you're showing gratitude.

"I'm Sorry."

No one likes to admit fault, but even fewer people actually say they are sorry when they should. I notice this in professional and social settings -- someone cuts you off in line to the barista; a joke becomes an insult; "feedback" to an employee creates hurt. These are certainly times when an apology is warranted, but often professionals are so busy getting to the next issue, they fail to see the pain they left in their wake.

Delivering a heartfelt apology takes practice. Authenticity is key to making sure the sentiment is communicated the way you intend. Apologies are best shared in person, face to face. When that isn't possible, the next best would be Skype or some type of video chatting. It's important for the body language to reinforce the authenticity of the apology. A phone call would be next in line when neither in person or Skype is feasible. As a last resort, a handwritten note or email will suffice if the apology is specific and direct.

Related: Don't Be Remembered for Forgetting Your Manners

Research has shown that women tend to over apologize: we apologize for asking for something in a restaurant; say, "I'm sorry" before voicing our opinion in a meeting; or take fault for knocking into someone, when they actually bumped into us. These are not "apologies," they are fillers, and the cultural reasoning goes deeper than we have time for here. This is not the kind of apology I'm referring to when I talk about sincere regret for action.

When an apology is warranted, no matter how significant or petty the giver feels it is, the job of the giver is to make the receiver whole. I believe it is up to the receiver to decide when the apology is accepted and when it's time to move on. The business grinds to a stop when an apology is necessitated and not delivered. Whether it is a colleague, client, vendor, or customer who is deserving of the apology, business owners should remember that brands could be destroyed by insincere or incomplete apologies.

Taking the time to practice these three key phrases will change the way you do business and reflects your passion for serving those who serve you. Your clients, employees, colleagues, and other stakeholders will benefit directly from your commitment to be more gracious, respectful and appreciative of their time, effort and relationship. The impact to your brand and bottom line will reflect your commitment.

Lida Citroën

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Reputation management and personal branding expert

Lida Citroën is an executive personal branding and reputation management specialist, a TEDx and keynote speaker, instructor on LinkedIn Learning and consultant working with global business leaders and military veterans to enhance their position and reputation in strategic markets.

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