Workplace Magic Words #1: Please

As a coach for so many executives and different types of executives (personalities, roles, businesses), I can honestly tell you that managing workplace conflict continues to be, by far, the #1 challenge for them. I am not suggesting that other parts of their roles are unimportant or difficult; merely that most of the feedback and problems I am helping clients with are of the interpersonal kind.

This really sounds like an old tune and perhaps it is not a surprise at all. What should be surprising, in my opinion, is that despite a largess amount of information, training, and support for these kinds of matters, it is still the number one issue. One would assume that by now, we might be better at this.

Intellectually speaking, I don’t know any good leader who is not aware of the right way of orchestrating people and managing conflict. But once in the ‘heat of the battle’ – all that learning seems to be inaccessible to the brain. We have discussed in many previous posts the neurological reasons for this and how emotional intelligence comes into play. So I won’t talk about that today. Instead, I’ll visit the abstract and philosophical world (an oddity for a scientist!).

When coaching folks in the midst of conflict with a peer, subordinate, or boss, I often gauge both their personal emotional temperature and that of the situation. Invariably, they are both high.  I have found that in almost all conflict situations, the magic words and phrases are never used. What are these? They are terms that can emotionally disarm both you and the situation, and in some cases, the other party.  I will share them over the next few weeks.

The first one is “please.”  I know this sounds awfully pedestrian, almost child-like to suggest. Think of the last conflict situation you were in – did you or they use the term “please” anywhere during the course of the unraveling of the battle? I doubt it.  But please is a powerful term. It shows respect to the other party, and some compassion for whatever it is you are asking for. Think of the difference in these two sentences:

  1. I’d like to say something now.
  2. Please, may I say something now.

Which one do you think has a higher probability of getting a positive response? The good thing about “please” is that you can use it in just about every sentence and situation. This week, make a conscious effort to use please at least once every hour at work. Be the judge of yourself at the end of the day and the week. Did you and your environment both operate better?


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