Do you have prepared phrases for when things get tricky at work?
Whether it’s telling an employee they need to improve their hygiene, pushing back on someone taking credit for your ideas, or bringing up serious complaints to HR, it’s always good to feel prepared. Work often means dealing with conflicts at all levels, and having planned statements for when things get awkward can make all the difference when it comes to setting boundaries. How would your work life improve if you had a pocketful of diplomatic phrases to use at a moment’s notice?
Alicia Bassuk is a leadership coach, speaker, author, and founder of the leadership development firm Ubica. Her clients include professional athletes, C-level executives, presidential appointees, and entrepreneurs. She’s currently working on a book for McGraw-Hill titled When No One is Looking Take the Lead.
I recently interviewed Alicia for the LEADx Leadership Podcast, where she laid out the 7 phrases we all need to get through those tough moments. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: When someone at work takes credit for our idea, what should we say?
Alicia Bassuk: When someone takes credit for your idea— and this happens all the time—sometimes it’s unintentional, but a lot of times it’s really unintentional, so when someone restates your idea exactly, or sometimes they may add a bell and whistle to it, sometimes they’ll take it a little bit further down the road and they’re actually making it a better idea, but it truly is based on your original idea and they didn’t give you credit for that, so whether it was intentional or not, you just let them know, “Thanks for spotlighting my point.” Then you continue talking about the point, which is really important because now you are regaining the upper hand in the conversation.
Kruse: How do we say “No,” to a request to stay late?
Bassuk: This is a very frequent one, and what you want to do is simply say, “Excuse me. I have another commitment.” You gather your stuff, you get up, and you walk away. What you’re doing there is you’re signaling to people, “I have a boundary here. I am not sharing with you the details of what I’m doing. I’m letting you know I have another commitment.” Now, frequently someone will lack diplomacy, and get all up in your grill and say, “Oh, where are you off to?” Or, “Isn’t it something that you can possibly delay? Because we really need to get through this material.” It’s a really good one to just repeat and say again, “Oh, I’m unable to. I have another commitment.”
The great thing about these statements is that they can all be reused twice because they are diplomatic, and what they do is they’re setting a wall which is very clear: “This is not to be crossed.” Yet it’s diplomatic, appropriate and professional, so if someone didn’t get the memo the first time, they’ll get it the second time.
Kruse: How do we respond when someone we trust snaps at us?
Bassuk: This one works really well if you have excellent rapport with someone. It’s a trusting relationship, and it really throws you off because their behavior towards you is inconsistent with how positive it has been historically.
What you should say is, when they come at you with, “I’ve done so much for you and we have all this great history together. Why is it such a problem for you?” You have to really focus in and tell them, “This isn’t about what you do for me. It’s about what you did to me, okay?” That allows you to say, “Look, this one thing, this was a problem. Our whole relationship is great. One percent of our relationship has this little problem and it happened in this one exchange that we had, and we’re going to talk about it.”
Now, people aren’t used to zeroing in and leaving out all the other laundry list, and so it’s likely that they will again try to throw you back into the laundry list of interactions. This one, again you will refocus them by repeating it. You know, “Yes, all that is true and all that is good. This isn’t about what you do for me. It’s about what you did to me.” It works because you can then dismiss all the complications and talk about the one interaction that caused the problem.
Kruse: What’s the right way to say “No,” to someone we care about?
Bassuk: In these cases what we want to do is open up a conversation, because there’s probably some way that you can deliver on what they’re requesting without saying no. It’s just not exactly what they’re requesting, so you have to tune into yourself and stop the reaction of either, “No, I don’t want to do that,” or, “Yes, I will begrudgingly do it and then resent the other person for it.”
You want to set those to the side, give yourself a little more reaction time, and simply say, “This is a good launching point.” By calling it a launching point, it allows you to then take a creative step and move that ask in a trajectory that is more amenable to what you do want to deliver to them.