One of the things I have found most helpful to me and to managers is to have those go-to phrases. Go to phases are the phrases you have in your back pocket so you can quickly and easily share your thoughts. We are going to share our favorites with information about WHY they are our favorites and in what context they are best used.


Listening is the ultimate employee engagement skill (check out our SPARK on listening). There are a few go-to phrases when you are truly listening to understand an employee’s perspective. (Check out our previous spark on the importance of listening).

  • “What am I missing?” This is a great question after you have shared your opinion or you have summarized their thoughts. For example, “This is the way I feel we should move forward. What am I missing?” It opens to the door for them to feel comfortable or safe sharing their thoughts. Another example is, “Based on what you have said, it seems that you are concerned about this specific aspect. What am I missing?”
  • “Help me understand.” This is another great phrase to encourage others to share their thoughts. You will want to add more to the end of this statement, but shorter is better. If you wanted to add something, start it with a “Please”. But if you start to add more to the statement, it tends to go downhill ……fast. For example, you may end up saying something like “Help me understand what the #$%!@ you were thinking”. This is not good. It also goes downhill if you use the word “Why”. Then it sounds like “Help me understand why you thought this was a good idea?!?” See the difference? Keep it short.
  • “Tell me more” (or tell me more about…..). Same answer as above. This is another great way to encourage others thoughts but keep it short.

While you are listening to an employee (see section above), it is also important to show empathy — by acknowledging the feeling and content of what the person is saying. There are two great phrases for being empathetic.

  • “What I am hearing you say is…….” This is a great statement to summarize the content of what someone has said, without repeating word for word what they are saying. This statement can also be followed up with “What I am missing?”.
  • “I understand this may be difficult.”  Using this phrase is acknowledging an individual’s feelings. We specific use the ‘this may be difficult’ statement because usually it is during difficult conversations that this phrase can be most helpful. But you can you this statement to summarize a number of different feelings, “I understand this may be scary”, “I understand this may be overwhelming” or “I understand this may be exciting”.

Recognition is another important aspect of engagement. There are some incredible statistics about this. One study found that 58% of respondents said that giving recognition would improve engagement. In addition, the same study found that 69% of respondents felt they would work harder if their efforts were appreciated.

  • “Thank you for…….”  Notice that this statement is not just “thank you” but includes “thank you for……” and then you insert the specific thing for which you are thanking them. The power of a thank you increases exponentially when you are specific about what you are thanking someone for.
  • “I appreciate you.”   This is such a great statement. Usually you hear things like “I appreciate your hard word” or “I appreciate your thoughts”. Those are good too. But the impact when you say “I appreciate YOU” is amazing — you are recognizing someone as a whole and for their being, not just what they have done. You can follow that statement with the specific about why you appreciate them but let them know you appreciate them.

Business team - problems under men and woman - misunderstandings
Clear Expectations
You will notice that the phrases we are including for making sure expectations are clear are more focused on when expectations are not being met. Typically it’s the difficult situations where it is even more important to be clear on what you are saying.

  • Let me be clear”.  I love this statement because it really makes the person focus on what you are saying. It essentially says ‘hey, pay attention, I am about to say something very important’. Then it needs to be followed up with what you want to be clear about.
  • “This is not okay.”  It is important to make sure that this is either preceded by or followed by a specific description of what is not okay. I found that managers would describe the behavior they were concerned about to employees but never bring it home by saying ‘this is not okay’. This statement creates an ‘oh crap, they are serious about this’ moment for the person receiving the feedback.

We would love to hear your favorite go-to phrases — please include them in the comments below.

To learn more about how to coach and engage employees, let’s connect! Here’s a link to set up a meeting directly with us: Connect with People Spark.

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