Does it ever seem that you have trouble getting the information you need from your team, or have trouble passing information up the line to your bosses? Do people just not do what you want them to do? Have you discovered that you have a reputation for being brusque or argumentative? It may simply be how you’re phrasing things.

Here are six easy ways to change your language to get more of the responses you want from coworkers.

Banish “try.” Remember Yoda? “Do or do not. There is no try.” The problem with “try” is there’s an inherent failure in it. Think about it. “I’m going to go to sleep” vs. “I’m going to try to sleep.” So how do you think it’ll be received when you say, “Get the report in by Wednesday” as opposed to “Try to get the report in by Wednesday”?

Banish “why.” And while you’re at it, banish “why” as well. It’s an antagonistic way of asking a question that automatically puts a person on the defensive and casts doubt on his or her actions. Now, if that’s your goal, and you want the person to be on the defensive, go for it. But if you’re just looking for other information, find another way to phrase the question. In other words, ask “What led you to use Python for that project?” as opposed to “Why did you use Python for that project?”

Instead of “But,” use “And.” We all know how annoying it is to have a conversation with someone playing the “Yes, But” game. However, there are times when you really do need to remind the person of another consideration. How do you do it without saying, “Yes, but”? Say, “Yes, and.” When your coworker says, “I’ll turn the report in on Friday,” instead of saying, “Yes, but you need to allow time for review,” say “Yes, and you need to allow time for review.” It provides the needed reminder without sounding so argumentative.

Use open questions. Ever feel like getting information from some people is like pulling teeth?

“Going to get the report in on time?” “Yes.”

“You know that Jenkins is going to be on vacation?” “Yes.”

“You don’t think that’s going to be a problem?” “No.”

While the person isn’t being particularly forthcoming, they’re answering your questions. It’s just that they’re all yes or no questions. So make it an open question instead. “How are you planning to make the deadline for the report when Jenkins is going to be out on vacation?” That will give the person the opportunity to tell you that they’ve already spoken to Jenkins, gotten that section of the report done, or whatever.

Speak positively. It’s a funny thing, but people tend to do what they hear you say, even if you put a “not” in front of it. Tell them, “Don’t forget to turn in the update” and they’ll hear “Forget to turn in the update” — and then do that. Instead, tell them “Remember to turn in the update.” Similarly, use “Be on time” vs. “Don’t be late.”

Prediction/programming. People don’t always realize how often they do this one — they predict a negative outcome, and so program a person to do whatever actions lead to that negative outcome. “Whenever you go out of town, you get sick.” And sure enough, the next time the person goes out of town, they get sick. And let’s not even talk about “You do a worse job on that report every month.” It may be hard to believe that you have so much influence on people who don’t seem to do what you say in the first place, but the subconscious mind is a funny thing.

So, now that you’ve carefully read all these, what steps are you going to take next to get your team to practice implementing them?

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