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 andconcessions 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.