10 Phrases You Should Start Saying More Often at Work

The wisdom in the management literature suggests that trust is one of the prime motivators that can get you:

  • Great collaboration;
  • Increased employee engagement; and
  • (Lead to) positive business results.

So, what is the starting point for trust? Well, in a word, ‘words’ – or more precisely, the words that you use.

Within the context of a conversation, there may be certain phrases (if we use them often enough) that result in others perceiving us in a way that will build bridges and increase trust (thereby leading to increases in individual, team and/or organisational performance).

If hubris is not in your nature, then the following phrases may aid you on your trust-building odyssey.

  1. “That was my fault.”
    1. Admitting to being human and making mistakes has been found to actually increase trust.
    2. People who are imperfect appear more attractive to us, and we like them more than people who seem too perfect.
  2. “I can’t tell you how much [something performance-related] meant to all of us.”
    1. Acknowledging others for doing a challenging task or for their specific work performance is critical for human motivation.
    2. We need to show fellow co-workers that we do pay attention, and that their hard work is on our radar.
    3. So go ahead praise their work, using something like, “I can’t tell you how much your extra mentoring efforts for the new employees have meant to the whole team. They have hit the ground running fast and the whole team has exceeded their productivity because of it.”
    4. The key: Make sure you are attaching the praise to a specific work performance to make it that much more impactful.
  3. “I loved the way you handled that [situation/scenario].”
    1. Another form of praise should be given for someone’s leadership or character traits for handling a challenging situation or difficult person.
    2. By praising people for character traits, you reinforce the cultural behaviors that make the company a great place to work.
    3. Here is a clear example: “I loved the way you handled last week’s crisis with your calm, cool, and confident demeanor. Instead of people panicking and blaming each other, your attitude helped the team focus on coming up with solutions so it doesn’t happen again.”
  4. “Can I get your advice on this?”
    1. There is this false notion that people who ask for advice are perceived as less competent.
    2. On the contrary, research has linked people that ask for advice to being perceived as more competent (Brooks, Gino & Schweitzer, 2015).
    3. It demonstrates humility, a leadership strength that builds trust with others.
  5. “I’m happy to see you OR It’s great to see you!”
    1. Often used as a greeting phrase, when done with the proper and enthusiastic voice tone and body language, it is packed with deeper meaning that positively elevates the other person (and makes you look and feel good).
    2. It communicates, “You matter, and I value your presence.”
  6. “I trust your judgment.”
    1. Trust is a two-way street.
    2. By extending it to others on your team, they will be more inclined to return the favour and trust you back.
    3. Next time someone gives you input on the direction of a project, be open, have faith in that person’s competency to get it done, release your control or fear, and say, “I trust your judgment on this one. Lets roll with that option and see where it takes us.”
  7. “What was the highlight of your day (or week, or holiday, etc)?”
    1. This encouraging question puts the conversation on a positive note (right from the start), giving the other person a chance to reflect on something they are excited about.
  8. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
    1. This is another great way of saying thank you to someone for going above and beyond, especially if it made you look good.
    2. Saying it publicly in front of peers is especially gratifying – it puts the other person on the pedestal they deserve.
  9. “What can I do to help?”
    1. This phrase can move mountains when deadlines are due, stress is high, and desperation is setting in.
    2. It demonstrates action by genuinely having the backs of fellow co-workers.
    3. When expressed frequently, and in a timely manner, it creates a ripple effect and a culture of helping and serving.
  10. “Tell me about why …”
    1. It is not a secret – people love to talk about themselves.
    2. By drawing attention to them and their story, you make connections.
    3. When you ask a genuine question about the other person, it is inherently rewarding for their brains.
    4. This is a great association for them to have (about you) – that you are a curious and open-minded person.
    5. And, research has found that curious people are known for having better relationships, and other people are more easily attracted and feel socially closer to individuals that display curiosity (Suttie, 2017).
    6. Curious people: connect better; cope better with rejection; are less aggressive; and enjoy socialising more (Suttie, 2017).
    7. An example to finish this sentence could be: “Tell me about why this project is so enjoyable for you. I want to learn more about what gets you excited/pumped up.”


Brooks, A.W., Gino, F. & Schweitzer, M.E. (2015) Smart People Ask for (My) Advice: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of Competence. Management Science. 61(6), pp.1412-1435. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Advice%20Seeking_59ad2c42-54d6-4b32-8517-a99eeae0a45c.pdf. [Accessed: 25 February, 2018].

Suttie, J. (2017) Why Curious People Have Better Relationships. Available from World Wide Web: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_curious_people_have_better_relationships?utm_source=Greater+Good+Science+Center&utm_campaign=694ab4495d-GG_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_24&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ae73e326e-694ab4495d-50942075. [Accessed: 25 February, 2018].


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