There are many personal and professional situations when we’re not sure what to say. Power dynamics, compassion, fear, discomfort, respect, time, and much more play a part in the words we choose. Like everything, practice makes better. We will all have times when it will be hard to know what to say. Here are several phrases and responses to keep in your back pocket for such situations:
“It won’t be possible.” This one I learned from Jen Dziura, and have used effectively. It’s hard to argue with it won’t be possible (what can you say? Make it possible?), and it makes you sound in control of the situation. After all, you know what is and isn’t possible. You know the facts.
“Do you mind if I finish?” Interruptions! Some people are so good at them. Respond to interruptions by (politely) asking if you may finish your thought/sentence. Often people don’t realize they interrupt, and once it’s pointed out are quick to remember that interrupting is rude, and to give you back the floor. What’s their alternative? Yes, I do mind. What I have to say is more important. They may think that but they probably won’t say it, especially if there’s an audience.
“Did you say…?” a friend’s colleague gave her this advice: if you’re in a situation and you’re not sure what to say, repeat the other person’s statement. It buys you time and, if the other person’s statement was absurd, exposes the absurdity to their own ears. Say someone backs into your car (I hope not). If the other person gets out and tries to blame you for the accident, don’t apologize! (This actually happened to someone I know.) Instead, try “did you say this was my fault?” You know, semi-politely.
“What?” Another recommendation from the same colleague-of-a-friend. This is another time-buying device. More politely, “what was that?” or “can you repeat that?”
“What is the next step?” This neatly places the ball out of your court. If someone is asking you for something, say your piece and end with “what’s the next step?” Sometimes people will try (consciously or subconsciously) to get you to do all the work. This simple question turns that around (another one from Jen).
“Good fit.” This is a good phrase when asking for things. Say you’re negotiating, and you have requests. After stating them, leave the conversation on terms of a good fit. Given these requests, please let me know if this position is a good fit. We all want situations that are mutually beneficial. “Good fit” is an easy way to communicate that.
“Uncivil.” This is a great word. It’s unusual, a old-fashioned (I’ve only come across it in Jane Austen novels), and snappy. Because of these characteristics, it gets peoples’ attention. Use it when situations (or people!) are uncivil.
“That’s not an appropriate way to talk to a woman.” This one is also from Jen, and it’s for street harassment. I’ve tried it once, and it didn’t work too well (the guys kept talking to me. I think my delivery was more disgusted than morally superior/disappointed. Is it stupid that I need to practice my tone for responding to street harassers? Yes. Such is life). But it gave me something to say, and I will keep practicing.
What are your favorite words or phrases? (Buzzfeed collected some great ones such as limerence, vellichor, and syzygy!)
This post is part of The Bullish Blog Network.
(photo by Eva Jannotta)