The Art of Eloquence: Use These 4 Phrases to Advance Your Life and Career

Rhys da Vinci's picture
Rank: Gorilla | 550

In life, and in careers, technical proficiency eventually fades in importance as compared to the skill of managing people. Eventually, you have to learn not only what to say, but also how to say it. The words, phrases, and sentences that follow will start you thinking about what triggers of the human psyche your words are pulling, and how the subconscious buttons that need to be pushed change with different situations.


Magic Phrase #1: Can you help me?

The situation. This phrase is for whenever you want something from someone, but don't have much to offer in return. I find it particularly useful for cold calls or cold emails.

The magic. This phrase is almost stupidly simple, but is also extremely powerful, and is a foundation stone of any modern study on effective selling. Actually, it's just the word "help" that is so important. Believe it or not, people have an innate drive to help others. It's part of our genetic makeup - the survival of the species is dependent on protecting and providing for the tribe, so it has been ingrained in our collective psyches. It may be suppressed by experiences where a person has been taken advantage of, but if someone is in a position to help you it is extremely likely they have been helped by others, which means this innate impulse has been fed over time.

By asking someone to "help", you are subconsciously communicating to them that they have value and power. All other possible phrasings of your request are in essence asking someone to "do" something (e.g., "Can you meet me for coffee?"). By asking someone to "do", you are subconsciously communicating that you have some right to induce them to do something, which is inappropriate for the situation. Their instincts will rebel against it, and your chances of getting what you need will plummet.

Just ask for help.


Magic Phrase #2: What are the objective criteria we should use to evaluate this situation?

The situation. Any kind of negotiation - it could be before, at the start, or after the negotiation has gone on for months, but as soon as you enter the discussion, introduce these words.

The magic. Most disagreements, arguments, and negotiations revolve around two positions. The key to reaching an agreement that satisfies both sides is to insist on objective criteria, rather than starting from two opposing positions and trading concessions with the other side. In most situations, the best objective criteria that can be used are obvious to everyone, which means that you have the opportunity to consider the answer before the question is asked and prepare accordingly.


Magic Phrase #3: I may be wrong - I often am - but...

The situation. Any time you anticipate that there might be a disagreement over something. Use it before the disagreement gets into full swing - you want to disarm your opponent, not back down and be a doormat after the argument starts.

The magic. I'm borrowing this one from How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, which is a great book if you haven't read it already. The central premise of the book, and the key to interpersonal interaction, is that disagreements are usually due to ego rather than legitimate objections, and can usually be easily resolved from eliminating the ego from the equation and giving the other person the option to save face by taking your side.

This phrase completely eliminates the impending ego blockade, and is particularly powerful when combined with phrase #2, as in, "I may be wrong - I often am - but I think it might help to use ____ as objective criteria. Are there any other objective criteria you think we could use?"


Magic Phrase #4: I fully appreciate the complexity of the situation, but because _____, I have to...

The situation. This phrase is for when you are the decision maker, and someone is not going to be happy with the decision you're going to make. The argument goes on and on, no resolution of the opposing viewpoints is in sight, and the decision needs to happen now.

The magic. This is a tough situation, and one that people are simply not going to be happy about. This phrase helps minimize the damage because what you are doing is rather than pick a person or viewpoint to favor, you pick one objective criterion and label it as the most important, while simultaneously acknowledging that all of the other criteria were also important. People's feelings will get hurt more if they think you are picking someone else's viewpoint, rather than if they think you are forced to make a certain choice based on some objective criteria.

Are there any phrases you use that are highly effective and applicable across a wide range of situations? And why are they so effective?

Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 8/25/13. To see all of our top content from the past, click here.

Comments (31)

Aug 13, 2013

I like this

    • 1
Aug 13, 2013

Yep. All very useful. I don't do the "often I am" part though, because honestly, I'm not wrong that often. ;)

    • 1
Aug 13, 2013
CRE:

Yep. All very useful. I don't do the "often I am" part though, because honestly, I'm not wrong that often. ;)

I don't doubt it - but that part of the phrase is how you make it sound like you sincerely are open to other ideas. Just saying "I may be wrong" may not sound sincere by itself (especially if you don't believe it).

    • 1
Aug 13, 2013

Don't try these in England. When someone says something like "I may be wrong, but...", everyone will assume what they really mean is "you are an idiot, this is the right answer". And "I fully appreciate the complexity of the situation" means "this is beneath me, and I really couldn't care less about how you feel about it".

In essence, this: http://todayilearned.co.uk/2012/12/04/what-the-bri...

    • 1
Aug 14, 2013

Fuck England. It's like Seattle America with cool accents. One of the few European countries without their own style of hot women.

    • 1
Aug 14, 2013

What are you talking about? Everyone who has been there knows that the UK is a land of extremes when it comes to women; they are either really ugly or extremely hot.

As for style, I beg to differ, it's easy to pick-out the English ones out of bunch of hot chicks.

Aug 14, 2013

England is basically Game of Thrones aka awesome. And there are plenty of hot European women in London anyway. But yeah our weather is horrid.

Mar 31, 2016

Please.

Aug 13, 2013
thewaterpiper:

Don't try these in England. When someone says something like "I may be wrong, but...", everyone will assume what they really mean is "you are an idiot, this is the right answer". And "I fully appreciate the complexity of the situation" means "this is beneath me, and I really couldn't care less about how you feel about it".

In essence, this: http://todayilearned.co.uk/2012/12/04/what-the-bri...

Excellent point - the broader lesson is that you always have to calibrate by culture.

Aug 13, 2013

all these phrases sound very passive aggressively douchey...no offense.

Aug 13, 2013
KaySpectre:

all these phrases sound very passive aggressively douchey...no offense.

Yep, but when you have to "manage" your boss, they certainly come in handy

Aug 13, 2013
KaySpectre:

all these phrases sound very passive aggressively douchey...no offense.

Yeah, I hear you - especially #2. There are definitely more conversational ways to say it, but the point is to insist on objectivity.

How exactly you should say things depends a lot on the situation, who you're talking to, etc.

    • 1
Best Response
Aug 14, 2013

1. "What else?" -- When you're trying to elicit information from someone. After you ask a question, people will often try to give you as little info as they can so this is a way to nudge them to give you more. Repeat as necessary.

2. "Why?". -- This question is just not asked enough in business settings.

3. "Who do I have to fuck to get a beer in this dump?" -- I apply this phrase when the drinks are not coming rapidly enough in a drinking establishment.

    • 2
Aug 14, 2013
SureThing:

Fuck England. It's like Seattle America with cool accents. One of the few European countries without their own style of hot women.

"Seattle America"? lol, our weather isnt THAT bad, + our food and women are better

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Aug 14, 2013
AndyLouis:
SureThing:

Fuck England. It's like Seattle America with cool accents. One of the few European countries without their own style of hot women.

"Seattle America"? lol, our weather isnt THAT bad, + our food and women are better

Hah, how many countries do you lay claim to, Andy?

Aug 14, 2013
CRE:
AndyLouis:
SureThing:

Fuck England. It's like Seattle America with cool accents. One of the few European countries without their own style of hot women.

"Seattle America"? lol, our weather isnt THAT bad, + our food and women are better

Hah, how many countries do you lay claim to, Andy?

haha, seattle will always be home (grew up and went to school there), but prob won't live there again.

btw... back in the usa tomorrow!

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Aug 14, 2013
AndyLouis:
CRE:
AndyLouis:
SureThing:

Fuck England. It's like Seattle America with cool accents. One of the few European countries without their own style of hot women.

"Seattle America"? lol, our weather isnt THAT bad, + our food and women are better

Hah, how many countries do you lay claim to, Andy?

haha, seattle will always be home (grew up and went to school there), but prob won't live there again.

btw... back in the usa tomorrow!

I actually like Seattle and might retire there if I don't croak before then.

Aug 15, 2013

I like it too, in the summer, and would recommend it for retirement (based on my what my grandparents would say)

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Aug 16, 2013

"Everybody's fighting their own battles, so don't be a cunt" is probably the single most life changing quote I've ever heard. If a quote can change someones life. Any time I lose patience I just think that and bam, no cuntiness.

    • 1
Aug 19, 2013

Haha, I've over heard gentler versions, but I have to agree. I can remember reading that on facebook of all fucking places but I really did take me back. Its a great quote to have written down on your planner or something else you'll see a lot.

Aug 25, 2013

Nice post. Thanks for sharing!

Aug 26, 2013

sweet

Aug 27, 2013

Great and useful. Could anyone give concrete examples of using such phrases in our daily working life? (Family life is also ok)

Jan 22, 2015

especially appreciate 1)

Mar 31, 2016

interesting. I have seen advice on not using "I may be wrong..." due to it instantly discrediting whatever you may have to say, but I personally use it.

Mar 31, 2016

Don't use any of these except #1 in the UK as, has been said previously, everyone uses them when they mean something entirely different. I.e.

2 - What you're saying is ridiculous and we're doing it my way

3 - I 100% disagree with everything you've just said

4 - See 3

Mar 31, 2016

For fuck's sake, these are just general guidelines and are not meant for people to use in every damn situation. It depends on the culture (not necessarily where you live but maybe your company culture), your relationship with your colleagues, and etc.

For every point, I can picture scenarios in which it will or will not work. Also, if you are dealing some moron who's so sensitive and thin-skinned, who the fuck cares?

Apr 1, 2016

Great Article I would like to see it become a forum maybe ? Similar to a bank of honed expressions to be use in case of emergency. Unfortunately a few people have inflated the "English women/Seattle" debate which might at some point become a career limiting move (CLM) for them.

Apr 1, 2016

I'll give you number 5

  1. No
Apr 2, 2016
Comment

Want to Lose the body fat, keep the muscles, I can help.

Apr 5, 2016

Pages