10 Powerful Things to Say at Work

Communication is hugely important at work because nothing is done in a bubble.  How you interact with your co-workers and what you choose to say, shapes how others perceive you.  Here is a list of 10 powerful things to say at work starting with five questions and followed by five statements.  Using them can increase both meaning and purpose to the many conversations you have from day to day.

Without further ado, here are the five powerful questions.

1. What do you think, ___?

The blank here represents targeting a specific person for feedback.  Asking open ended questions leads to diversity of thought.  This adds nuances and fresh details to projects and offerings.  Getting a variety of opinions is valuable.  It’s useful in and out of the workplace.  For example, when I applied for my MBA program, I asked several people to review my entrance essays.  I am certain the essays were much improved by these critiques.  Please note that some people may cringe at having to share their thoughts publicly so decide if it’s best to ask privately.

2. What haven’t we thought of yet?

The purpose of this question is to trigger the brain into considering items not considered.  Saying out loud that you want to inquire further and dig deeper into an assignment triggers a change in thinking.  It may take time, but if you pose this question near the close of every project call, you’ll soon find people offering valuable insights in response.

3. Who and when?

Imagine you meet with several people to discuss a solution to a project roadblock.  You all come to a decision and feel great about the solution.  You leave the meeting and notes are sent with the resolution defined.  Days later you meet again only to realize no action has been taken.  Has this happened to you?  The reason is probably because nobody asked the question, “Who is doing the work and when will it be done?”  Sometimes this is because nobody feels they have the authority to ask and sometimes it’s because everyone assumes somebody else knows they own the task.  In either case, it is wise to leave those assumptions behind and ask the question so that a project doesn’t stall due to poor direction.

4. What is the risk?

How can you hedge a risk you are unaware of?  You can’t, and by asking this question you set the stage to understand your risk and find ways to minimize or possibly remove them.  As mentioned above, posing open ended questions allows others to offer you information that you would not have gotten on your own.

5. What did we learn?

A core take-away I hope everybody gets from this blog is that reflection, both personal and professional, is of huge value.  Taking time to review your experiences helps you identify ways to improve.  In doing so, you become wiser, more efficient and a stronger leader whether at an individual contributor or director level.  Asking others what they learned and what they would do differently can give you a wealth of information.

Now that we’ve discussed the five powerful questions, here are five powerful statements to work into your conversations.

1. I’m listening.

In other words, be present.  When you say you are listening, you should actually be listening.  So often at work we tune out what we are hearing because we are preparing a response or have gotten distracted by an email or instant message.  A huge shift happens when you stay present for a conversation.  You find that you understand more deeply, retain a better memory and make faster associations to other discussions.

2. I understand, and this is what I heard…

Express that you understand what another person is communicating.  Better still, paraphrase what you heard.  This shows co-workers that you are on the same page.  Furthermore paraphrasing helps ferret out misunderstandings before they become problems.

3. I disagree.

This is a big one.  I’m a bit of a people pleaser and for years I didn’t want to state that I disagreed with another person’s recommendations for fear of souring a relationship.  Eventually I learned that my company hired me, not just to do tasks, but to think.  It’s important to support ideas you agree with, but I would say it’s more important to respectfully voice your concerns.  Companies with the greatest variety of thought and experience flourish the most.  They can deliver more comprehensive solutions.  So by giving the contrasting perspective, you may feel uncomfortable in the short term, but ultimately you stand the chance for greater success.

4. I support you.

When genuinely said, this is a strong reinforcement for long standing work relationships or a great offering for new relationships.  You need to publicly show your support in the workplace for your partner to gain value from it.  Once you demonstrate your support, you will likely find that you have won a friend and ally which makes work more enjoyable.

5. Thank you

Gratitude and appreciation are paramount in my book.  Public recognition and acknowledgement are important.  Without it, people can feel overlooked and this, over time, results in poorer performance or a desire to look for projects and positions that are more gratifying.

The bottom line is that we live in a collaborative world and this is seen most clearly in work environments.   Whether it’s teamwork with colleagues or partnership with clients, you are well served to use these questions and statements.  They add clarity, increase variety of thought and maintain positive work relationships.

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