3 Secret Phrases All Leaders Must Know
Leadership is inherently about communication. Your ability to communicate well with your team, your boss, your coworkers, and anyone else around you can make or break your career as a leader. Given the importance we place on communications, it always helps to have a few tools and techniques that can give you an edge and make you a more effective communicator.
I’d like to share three of my favorite phrases.
Each of these three phrases is very carefully and thoughtfully crafted. If you want to use them effectively, use them exactly as they’re written. Do not modify them as changes you make will change their meaning (and correspondingly yield different results for you). As you try putting them into practice, they may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. Any new skill you learn feels this way. That said, if you use these phrases regularly and appropriately, you’re likely to have some great results.
I have shared these phrases with members of my teams over the years (just as one of them was shared with me by a boss – the other two are Mike Figliuolo originals). I teach my coaching clients how to use them. People are often surprised (positively) with the results they get from trying these phrases out. I encourage you to give them a whirl too.
So here they are… three secret phrases that will make you a more effective communicator and leader:
When you’re having a conversation where you’re trying to understand a situation, you need to ensure you fully understand the situation before you recommend action. Too often we think we know what’s going on or what the root issue is when we actually don’t. In these situations, let the other person speak for a while then simply say “say more.” Note it’s not “Can you say more about topic XYZ?” Two things are wrong with that. First, they can say “no” and the conversation ends. Second, if you narrow it to “topic XYZ” you will never find out the real issue is topic ABC.
“Say more.” is deliberately constructed. It’s a directive. You’re giving a command. There is no “no” as an option. It’s subtle but it matters. People feel compelled to continue talking. It’s also unbounded. You have told them to say more but you have not told them what to talk about. They’re going to talk about the thing that’s logically next in their mind. The thing is you had no idea that was logically next. I’ve been surprised many times by what pops out when I say “say more” and it has led to me being able to resolve the true root cause on many occasions. This technique also works very well when you’re interviewing job candidates.
“How do you feel about that?”
If you’ve ever taken a Myers-Briggs test, you know one of the dimensions is the “thinking/feeling” axis. On a 60 point scale, I’m a 57 on “thinking” versus feeling. I’m brutally logical in most cases. Given that, I tend to speak logically and approach issues logically. In my past I often found myself saying “What do you think about that?” when I wanted someone’s perspective on a topic. And I got logical responses.
Unfortunately, getting logical responses doesn’t make you an effective leader because humans are emotional animals. EQ, right? If you ask people “How do you feel about that?” it unlocks an entirely different side of their being. You get to their fears, their aspirations, their motivations, and their insecurities with this question. You get into the visceral land of leadership. You understand them better which makes you able to lead them more effectively. You have to use the “f” word occasionally if you really want to understand what those around you care about (and you folks know I’m referring to “feel” as the “f” word…).
“I’m sure you understand.”
As leaders, we have to make tough decisions. We have to deliver bad news. We have to say “no” to things people ask us to do because we’re overworked and exceedingly busy. But we feel bad delivering this news or saying “no.” We also don’t like getting push-back from folks when we make these decisions.
Try this – deliver your bad news or your “no” and follow it up with “I’m sure you understand.” If they do understand your decision or your “no” response, you’re appealing to that logical side of their minds (even though they’re having a negative emotional response to the message you’ve delivered). Doing so reduces the conflict inherent in what you’ve said. You’ve taken away a basis for them to object. Nobody wants to be seen as not being understanding of another’s plight. If they don’t understand why you’ve made your decision or why you’ve said “no” it gives you a chance to clarify and further explain things. Sometimes folks won’t even protest your decision even if they don’t understand it because they’re uncomfortable with appearing dense for not understanding (which isn’t a good thing because you want to ensure they truly do understand your rationale). Also note it’s not “You understand where I’m coming from, don’t you?” because saying it as a question opens the “no” response and you haven’t closed the issue.
For example, I had to decline being part of an ongoing meeting because I was over-committed to other projects. Rather than just tell the person who ran that meeting “I’m not coming anymore” which could insult or upset them, I said “I have to decline being part of these ongoing meetings. Right now I’m stretched too thin and have more commitments than I can attend to effectively. I’m happy to be involved in an ad hoc manner if you need my expertise but I won’t be coming to future recurring meetings. I’m sure you understand.” It was a great conversation. I mean, who doesn’t understand being overworked and over-committed?
Give those three phrases a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Again – don’t modify the way they’re phrased. They’ve been deliberately constructed for effectiveness. Try those out and let us know how they work for you in the comments section below.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC
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Good stuff that I’ll be incorporating onto this year’s lexicon.
If I may build on your list, I’d like to add a question I use often.
“Is that fair?” I use it when trying to establish common ground rules with other parties.
For example, when addressing a strained client relationship: “Let’s do this. I’d like you to first describe where your frustration with us lies so I fully understand the issues. Then I’d like the opportunity to explain how we see it. After that, we can look for the common ground we do have and try to find a path forward that benefits the both of us. Is that fair?”
What I like about asking that question is that you almost always get a yes response to it. You’re not asking them if they agree with you, you’re simply asking if they think it’s “fair”. It get s a potentially negative conversation started off on a positive note.
P.S. – How’s your ticker doing? No double quarter pounders for you in 2014???
Great add Tim. I like it a lot.
And yes – my diet has fundamentally changed as have my exercise habits. I’ve had fast food exactly *once* since my incident and it was a plain Arby’s roast beef sandwich. Doing much better. Thank you for asking.
Only three phrases and you’ve said a mouthful about communication effectiveness in leadership. ‘Say more’ is a non-threatening probe that not only puts the respondent at ease but maximizes information gathering to garner a greater understanding for the listener.
A huge thanks for the invaluable tips. You’ve scored a colossal word bang!
I’ve never tried the third. But I do usually say “tell me more”, and “how’s that?” which is like the first two – but mainly because I would actually be curious…
I think the leader may also allow some time to the other person in difficult circumstances and he may ask: “Why not come back to me if you have some point to share”. This may make him feel empowered