I received the ultimate “Can I pick your brain?” email. Quarantine had just begun here in Spain, but I was already feeling burned out from everyone’s initial infatuation with Zoom.
“Is it cool if we just do an old-fashioned phone call?” I replied.
“I’d prefer video,” the man immediately shot back. “There’s something cool I’d like to show you.”
I wanted to insist, but after giving him a warning that my apartment wasn’t very big and I didn’t always get to chose when my youngest son cries, I gave in.
The next day, however, not even 5 minutes into our call, he asked to do a screen-share and tried to sell me on a product he was pushing.
Despite not being able to see my knuckles turn white, I thought for sure he’d picked up on the fact that my face was cemented in a permanent yawn.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to cut him off as shortly after he started his pitch our apartment exploded into tears and I jumped on the opening to end the call.
Much like in “real” life, during video calls, some people have said or done something that rubbed me the wrong way. But for every call that could have gone better, there have been just as many that have turned out well.
A big part of this is because someone said something that traveled straight through my ears and hit me hard in both my head and heart.
When it comes to building relationships, few exercises are more valuable than keeping track of the phrases that both light people up and those that bring people down. Then either adopting them for yourself or making a point to banish them from your vocabulary.
Since the world decided to get weird on us six months ago and video calls have become the norm, I’ve been collecting both the kind and questionable phrases people have said to me.
To kick things off below are a handful of the phrases people have said that made me instantly like them.
1. “Can you say that again? I want to write it down.”
These words have been said to me a few times and whenever I hear them, I melt. Not only that, but it lets me know the person I am speaking with is open-minded and curious.
“That’s an interesting perspective. Give me a second to write that down.”
“I never thought of it that way. I want to write that down.”
“I love that idea. I’m gonna write it down so I don’t forget it.”
Compliments about someone’s fashion taste or appearance is nice. The same goes for noticing something cool about their apartment.
But they can’t compete with telling someone you love the way they think.
2. “Thanks for asking….”
The first time I got on a call with my new friend Jake Daghe I quickly noticed a pattern: whenever I asked him a question he would pause and before answering he’d say, “Thanks for asking.”
I recently asked him where he developed this habit and his answer was just as charming as the phrase itself —
“I had a mentor who told me that the most missed opportunity to instill value in others is when people ask you questions. He explained that typically when people get asked a question, their pride is quick to jump in an attempt to answer it. But if you can delay pride just a fraction to allow gratitude to come out, you not only get to give an answer but you also make the other person feel valuable.”
Whether you know Jake or not, I’d be willing to bet after reading that you also think he’s someone you want in your corner.
“Thanks for asking, I’d love to write you a testimonial.”
“Thanks for asking, I learned that from my grandfather.”
Quick but important aside:
It’s also the perfect softener when you need to say no — “Thanks for asking, I’m tied up at the moment but your project sounds cool.”
3. “Sorry I interrupted you, I get excited. Please continue.”
If there’s a silver lining for Zoom calls and picking up the phone more than normal it’s that I’ve realized how much I interrupt other people. This is especially true when I’m really into a topic or on a group call.
Fortunately, after being on the receiving end of an interruption a few weeks ago, Marina Glazman said something that not only allowed me to finish my thought, but also made me smile —
“Sorry for interrupting you so much. I have a bad habit of getting really excited and I need to learn how to shut up. Please continue and feel free to call me out the next time.”
Much like Jake’s example above regarding, “Thanks for asking,” I’d be willing to bet you too like Marina’s vibe too.
“Sorry to interrupt, I’m really into this topic.”
“Sorry to interrupt, please tell me more. What you said really got me thinking.”
4. “I’d love your input on something.”
To connect with people, many experts recommend asking other people if they are facing any challenges. Don’t get me wrong, this is sound advice as it becomes much easier to help someone if you know what they’re struggling with.
However, not everyone may be up for sharing their problems with someone they just met. A simple way to get people to open up is to flip the script by sharing a struggle of your own and then asking them for their input.
“As someone who has kids, do you have any suggestions on how to better disconnect while working from home?”
“As someone who is a natural on camera, do you have any tips to be more comfortable?”
You may find that their suggestions not only helps you. But the person ends up liking you more as you’ve demonstrated you’re someone who admits they don’t have life figured out.
5. “I know I shouldn’t complain….”
I got on a call with an executive at a magazine I’ve been gunning for and prior to the call, I was a wrecked with nerves.
Fortunately, after exchanging hellos, the woman said the words, “I know I shouldn’t complain, but I hit a wall today and if I ramble or don’t make any sense, please give me a pass.” The two of us then vented for a few minutes about the state of the world since COVID turned our lives upside down which led to a more relaxed call.
“I hate to complain, but it’s been a tough week and I could use an ear….”
“I hate to complain, but man I wish we were sitting at a café right now instead of doing yet another video call.”
“I know I shouldn’t complain, and don’t get me wrong I love my kids, but….”
Life right now is weird for some and downright horrible for others. Sometimes letting these frustrations out can build bonds just as quickly as talking about all the goods things we have going on in our lives.
6. “Lately, I’ve been sick of video. But this was fun.”
I asked my wife for some suggestions of phrases she likes to hear from people and without hesitation, she said the words above.
It may sound a bit cheesy but it works. Plus, a strong last impression plays a major role in someone’s overall impression of you. So if you enjoyed speaking with them, let them know.
“I gotta be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to another video call, but this was great.”
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much on a video call. Thanks for that.”
One of the fundamental rules of social psychology is we like people who like us. So whether you’re a fan of this phrase or not let it serve as a reminder to end conversations on a positive note.
7. “Do you mind if we turn the video off?”
I live in a small town in Catalunya and every time my kids get on a video call with my parents in the US I’m grateful for technology. But not every call needs to be entirely on video and in many cases, it doesn’t need to be used at all (this is especially true if you are talking to someone early in the morning as they may not to be ready to put on a video face).
“If you prefer to get up and move around when you talk, please let me know.”
“Since the presentation is over is everyone okay with turning off the camera so we can relax?”
“I’m a bit Zoomed out for the day. Is it cool if we just talk?”
If you’re anything like me, you love it when people say these words. So if video isn’t completely necessary, ask the people you are speaking with what they prefer. You may find that be giving them an out, they open up a bit more and let you in.
There’s a lot of truth to the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” But our words still hold tremendous power and this is particularly true since the world moved to video calls and we can only see people from their shoulders up.
So keep track of the phrases people say that make you smile and sprinkle them around your conversations when you spot an opportunity.
Just don’t forget to also keep track of the phrases that bring people down. Not saying the wrong thing doesn’t automatically make you likable. But it sure helps.
This article first appeared on Medium.