20 Magic Words to Say at Work

In movies, magic words open secret doors, get genies to grant you wishes, and transport you to faraways lands. Words might not have quite as much power in the real world, but they come close.

Do you ever feel like you can’t get through to your team, and everyone seems to be resentful, defensive, or put-upon? In her book Daring Greatly, researcher Brené Brown lists a series of key phrases that help people connect with each other from a place of trust and honesty.

These phrases may make you feel vulnerable, but that’s the point. To succeed, we need to be willing to take a risk and put our thoughts and feelings on the line. This is the exact opposite of a shame culture, which I wrote about on Thursday. If you can say one of these things to a team member who is antagonistic to you, you might just feel their defenses melt away – like a linguistic karate chop. 

Here are the 20 magic words, sorted by what they communicate:

Show that you’re open to learning

  • “I’d like some feedback” 
  • “Can I get your take on this?”
  • “What can I do better next time?” 
  • “Can you teach me how to do this?” 
  • “I’d like to give it a shot” 

Be honest about your opinions and values

  • “It’s important to me” 
  • “I disagree – can we talk about it?” 
  • “Here’s what I need/how I feel”
  • “That means a lot to me”

Admit responsibility 

  • “Yes, I did it” 
  • “It didn’t work, but I learned a lot” 
  • “I played a part in that”
  • “I accept responsibility for that” 
  • “I’m sorry”

Admit that you can’t do it alone

  • “I don’t know” 
  • “I need help” 
  • “Thank you”

Show your support 

  • “I’m here for you” 
  • “I want to help” 
  • “Let’s move on” 
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Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.
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