Magic phrases

No child in my house ever received anything without using the magic phrases ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. Those magic phrases work a treat for managers, too. Here are some others to use liberally:

  • May I ask you a question? or I need to ask you a few questions so that …
    This shows respect and lets people know what’s coming so they can get ‘mentally comfortable’ and ready to answer.
  • From  now on … or Next time …
    This is magic when someone has done something you don’t want them to do again. Instead of telling them what they’ve just done wrong, tell them what to do instead. It’s less ‘pushy’ and authoritarian and therefore gets less resistance and more cooperation.
  • Would you mind if I make a suggestion?
    This means you aren’t ramming advice or orders down peoples’ throats and makes your advice easier to take on board.
  • Do you have a minute? I’d like to talk to you about … or I’d like to ask your opinion about …
    Use this before launching into a conversation with someone who may be in the middle of something else; use it when you ‘phone someone, walk up to someone’s desk or pop into someone’s office. It shows you’re considerate of peoples’ time, lets them assess its priority and let’s them know they’re free to say ‘Later would be better.’
  • Here’s what I can do.
    This softens a ‘No’ by offering an alternative and is a great way to bring people on side.
  • I’m not following what you’re saying.
    This is much better than accusing someone of not making sense or of wooly thinking! Similarly, Let me know if you’re not following what I’m saying invites people to ask for clarification when they need it.
  • … because …
    Whether you’re being complimentary or constructively critical, say why. Compliments sound more sincere and less patronising and makes clear what you want repeated. Explaining why takes the heat out of constructive information.

Magic phrases like these build good will and set the tone for a cooperative, respectful work team.

Discussion questions

How many magic phrases have you used this week?

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