39 Phrases Everyone Should Know and Use

I remember a visit at the Greyhound depot, pick up a couple of parcels. As I walked through the door, I heard a customer berating an agent in loud and abusive terms. The customer had expected something to be there for pick-up and it wasn’t.

The more the customer screamed and threatened (and it was screaming), the more agitated the agent became. The confrontation resembled a playground fight between two children, not a business transaction.

I felt sorry for the agent. Her manager was sitting in an office behind the service area, aware of what was going on, but not intervening. I wanted to give the manager a boot and say, go out there and support your staff.

The agent also seemed ill-equipped to deal with the situation. If she had any training in dealing with angry customers, it wasn’t apparent from her actions.

A dozen or so years ago, I attend a workshop on interpersonal communication skills. One of the “tools” handed out was this sheet of phrases that could be used to communicate in diverse types of situations.

I’m not suggesting—as the workshop presenter did—that memorizing a sheet of phrases is going to solve all your communication issues. I can’t imagine the Greyhound agent would have been well served by having this list taped to her station, along with a communication flow chart.

Interpersonal communication is too complex to be bound merely by fixed rules. However, effective interpersonal communication skills can be learned and developed.

Any complex skill needs a foundation on which to build. This list of phrases can serve as such a foundation. Look at areas which are weaker communication skills for you and then look at the kinds of phrases you need to add to your lexicon.

Always appropriate

  1. Please
  2. Thank you
  3. You’re welcome

Reaching out to people

  1. Hi, I’m… What’s your name?
  2. Excuse me, I see you every day in the hall and I want to introduce myself. I’m…
  3. I understand how you feel.
  4. I would feel that way too in your situation.
  5. I can see this matter is especially important to you.
  6. This is what I hear you saying.
  7. Tell me more about it.

Cooperating and compromising in a conflict

  1. I gather you don’t agree. What’s the reason for your objection?
  2. Why won’t this work?
  3. I have a problem I’d like to discuss with you.
  4. Let’s talk this over. When is a good time for you?
  5. Let’s see how we can reach our mutual goal.
  6. It’s in our common interest to reach an agreement.
  7. How can I help you meet your needs?

Giving and receiving criticism

  1. It’s important for our relationship that I tell you about an issue that is making it hard for me to work with you.
  2. I’m not blaming you for my feelings. I’m just describing how I feel.
  3. I’m not attacking you as a person; I want to focus on your behaviour that is preventing you from moving ahead.
  4. That never occurred to me, but I’ll give it some thought.
  5. I’ll consider that and get back to you.
  6. Let me think over what you said and then discuss a different approach.

Acknowledging errors and mistakes

  1. I’m sorry.
  2. I was wrong.
  3. I accept responsibility.
  4. Yes, it happened, and it was a mistake.
  5. I don’t have an excuse. I have an explanation if you want to hear it.
  6. You have a right to feel the way you do.
  7. Here’s what I learned from the situation and what I’ll do differently in the future.
  8. We know what the problem is. Let’s focus on solutions.
  9. How would you like the problem resolved?
  10. What do you think a fair solution would be?
  11. Here’s what we can do to correct the problem.

Gossip and rumours

  1. I understand you have been saying…
  2. Do you really mean what I hear you’ve been saying?
  3. I’ve heard that, but it’s just a rumour.
  4. If it’s not true, it won’t be said anymore, will it?
  5. This may be an isolated incident, but I’m going to conduct my relationship with you quite differently from now on.
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