image by Oko Swan O’Murphy via Canva

Words have heft and weight, and in our hectic world we sometimes toss them around without considering their power – including their power to wound.  An inconsiderate response can do lasting damage. An off-hand remark can crush a student. The wrong response to a teacher can close the possibilities of collaboration you have been working towards. You didn’t mean to do it, but the harm was done. On the flip-side, the right response can strengthen existing relationships and start new ones.

We typically (and unintentionally) do damage when we are busy and respond without thinking. Being aware of phrases that might harm relationships and what to say instead can help avoid these situations. Gwen Moran suggests These 7 Phrases Can Help You Sound More Powerful at Work. They will also keep relationships moving forward.

  1. Here’s What I Can Do – “No” cuts conversation off. There are always alternates you can propose. You can’t and shouldn’t always say, “Yes”, but there are alternatives.  Moran reminds us we need to set boundaries. It’s good for others to know you have a lot of work and many priorities. At the same time, you don’t want to cause a teacher to think it doesn’t pay to ask for your help because you are so busy.
  2. I’ll Find Out – This one is part of our work so it may come more naturally. As a profession, we are great at finding out and rarely just say, “I don’t know.” A quick response because we were too busy or distracted to listen carefully to the request will do more harm than letting someone know you will follow up. Try to give a date or time by when you plan to get back to them – and do so.
  3. Can You … – Asking for help is a good thing. Moran cautions you not to preface the request with, “I know how busy you are …”   You don’t want to suggest you see your request as a burden. Also, you can request that they do something before you add your support. “Can you narrow down your search before I….” “Can you give me a list of topics you want covered….” And when someone does you a favor, they feel positive about themselves – which can improve your relationship. After, don’t forget to thank them. Handwritten notes are great for this.
  4. Let’s Solve This – I love this phrase. It creates a collaborative situation which more naturally strengthens relationships. Working together you get to understand the other person’s needs better. The knowledge will help you in targeting your future communication to their wants and needs.
  5. I’m Glad You Like It – It’s hard for many of us to accept praise but minimizing it by saying it was no big deal or deflecting to how someone else contributed takes away from what the other person said. Accept compliments gracefully and graciously. Assess if it’s a good time to get feedback by asking, “What do you think worked?” as well as “How could I have done it better?” or “What do you think I should do next time?”  In the convivial atmosphere of a conversation, you can get a helpful response and build for the future.
  6. I Want to Help – Whether it’s a teacher or a student who is distraught, “Calm down” never works. It typically aggravates the situation which, in turn, weakens a relationship. Saying you want to help or asking what you can do allows the person to focus on what you are saying and that help is available. Helping them articulate what they need further strengths your relationship by showing them you are someone who can be trusting in stressful situations.
  7. I’m Happy I Was Able to Help – Moran says this goes beyond saying “You’re welcome.”  That phrase is an automatic response to a thanks. By bringing in your happiness, you pave the way for further opportunities to work together and reinforce the collaboration and connection that occurred.

Words spoken aloud or in text are fundamental to our communication. Communication is a tool for building relationship. Relationships are part of our leadership skills, and leadership is necessary for advocacy. Because words have power to harm or help, they can erode all we are trying to build when we speak carelessly. Bullies use them consciously to hurt. Implicit bias has been unconscious but no less wounding. Despite our knowledge, sometimes we speak without considering what the receiver of our message hears. Before you speak, take stock of where you are, especially if you’re feeling rushed or stressed, and pause before you respond. It can make a big difference.


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