What To Say To Get Your Way – Effective Tips For Communication

Several years back I led a book discussion at work. It was an uneventful meeting except for one remarkable thing I witnessed that stayed in my memory long after it occurred. During the discussion I made an observation that was not well received by one of the participants. In response someone else spoke up. Now what he said was very unremarkable. But the way he said it struck such a chord that the person miffed with me remarked at how well he spoke. I just witnessed someone performing verbal ju jitsu on me. I didn’t even have a fight in me.

You keep hearing the refrain that body language accounts for 98% of all communication. So the words you write and the words you speak apparently don’t weigh much in your communication.

What a mistake.

Verbal and written communication plays a key factor in your personal and professional success. In fact its importance is only growing.

“What to Say To Get Your Way” by John Boswell is one of the top self help books on this subject. It is a timely book written in an easy to digest way that is a quick pleasing read. Its highlight is a listing of examples where something is said the wrong way and then better more sophisticated alternatives are presented. Reading them not only helped re emphasize the importance of choosing the right word but reminded me that it is possible to play ju jitsu just with your words. You can disarm, influence and control your opponent just as effectively (and more subtly) than you would performing ju jitsu physically on that person.

John structures his book on a few sound principles and then elaborates them by presenting short sentences spoken the wrong way and the right way. He kicks off the book with he what he calls ‘Six degrees of conversation’. These are:

  1. Think ahead (so that you don’t think after the words have already left your mouth)
  2. Listen more
  3. Pay attention
  4. Listen emphatically
  5. Slow down
  6. Lower your voice

Some other principles:

Communication tip #I – Put it on ‘I’.

For example instead of saying “You never listen to me” say “I feel I am not being heard”. The beauty of this strategy is that it takes the edge off the words and removes the need for defensiveness in the other person.

Communication tip #II – Put it on ‘Them’.

Try this if you ever need to deflect responsibility to some one else. So instead of saying “I can’t tell you” say “I am not allowed to say”.

Communication tip #III -Give them a choice. Use Can/Could or May/Might

This tactic offers the other party a face saving choice instead of directly facing your demand or accusation. This also helps reduce defensiveness. So instead of saying “You need to…
or “You must…” say “You might…” or “You could…”.

Communication tip #IV – Avoid Confrontation

In fact the whole book is designed to help you avoid confrontation. This tactic helps us refrain from using provocative phrases during moments when we are emotionally hijacked. For example instead of saying “You are wrong ” say “I would argue that…” or “I would make the case that…”

Communication tip #V -Turn an accusation into a question

This is a terrific tactic and my favorite. An accusation is like a rhetorical question. It is not expected to deserve a response other than an involuntary denial or hardening of attitudes. But if you rephrase the accusation as a question…now that it different. Example, don’t say “I don’t see the point of this” instead say “What are you trying to get accomplished here”.

Communication tip #VI -Avoid the negative

So instead of saying “That is not what I said” say “Let me explain that again”. You will become that much more agreeable a person.

Communication tip #VII -Soften the message

The point here is that saying it in the harshest, meanest manner is less effective than saying it with tact. Assuming it is constructive conversation you are after. So “I disagree” can be softened to “I am not sure I’d agree that…”. Another related tip is how you start your sentences. The right way sets the tone for the rest to follow. An example of a good way to start “As I understand…”.

The book has a lot of examples of saying things the wrong way and showing how it could be said better. While these are examples they serve to do more than that. They remind the reader there is always a better way to say it. A better way that is more polished and impactful.

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