The Bible, in Proverbs 18:21, says "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." As educators, we need to take this to heart and choose our words carefully, as they can either exacerbate or diffuse a situation. Through the years, I've learned several words and phrases that seem to work like magic in dealing with others. There is nothing special about any of these, but when spoken with sincerity can change a situation for the better. Below are several these "magic words." Try them and see what happens.
1) "Now..." - Have you ever watched a child's face when you say something like, "You did steps 1 to 3 exactly right, BUT you didn't do step 4." It almost seems to suck the life out of them. It is though you are saying, "You did good, just not good enough." Imagine replacing that "but" or "however" with "Now." "You did steps 1 to 4 exactly right, NOW start on step 4." For whatever reason, that one word "Now" seems to turn a negative into a positive. When I first learned this, I decided to test it. On the tough kids. In detention, no less. Every day, I assigned a reflective writing prompt. The kids would write a sentence and then balk. One day, I told a boy, after he written a single sentence, "That is a great start, now write about what you do next." To my amazement, he did. He wrote two more sentences. I repeated this several times until he had a page written. Then, after looking at the page, I said, "Now, read it again and underline any corrections you need to make or anything that doesn't really make sense." He did. This continued until he had written a very strong reflection.
2) "I'm sorry that happened." - These four words have changed the way I address people when they bring problems my way. Anytime someone comes to me with a problem situation, my first words are "I'm sorry that happened." And I am. It may be that I empathize with the person. It could also be because this problem brought an irate person into my otherwise peaceful day. Either way, these four words, said with conviction, will reduce tension and help bring the person to your side.
3) "How can I help?" - When people know that you are really listening to their concerns and are willing to invest in them, they are much more willing to work with you. I use these magic words when people bring a real concern to me, as compared to a string of complaints.
4) What do you think? - Asking for people's opinion or advice let's them know you think they are important. It may also lead to a better solution to a problem.
5) "We..." - There is strength in working together with others. When you use the word "I," the focus is on you. When you use the word "we," the focus is on all of us.
6) "Your child... " - Many educators use the term, "your student" when talking to parents about their kids. For whatever reason, that sounds impersonal. "Your child," however, brings it closer to home. It also lets parents know that you see their child as more than just a name on a roll sheet and seems to open a door to more effective communication.
7) "Can/will you help me?" - I don't know about you, but when someone seeks out my help, I am flattered. It is a self-esteem builder and a great ego booster. It also shows that you can't do everything and need others to be successful.
One word of caution: While the words and phrases above are useful in working with others, they must be used with a tone of caring. If not, they will come across as insincere and often hurtful.
What "magic words" do you use? Please feel free to add them in the comments.