Use these five phrases to improve your emotional intelligence and relationships at work

Developing our emotional intelligence has wide ranging benefits, in our professional  journeys and at home. 

It's easy to overthink, but by simply being aware of our interactions and being open to possibilities, we can make real progress quickly. 

This week's read looks at some easy ways to leave the door open to more meaningful and mutually beneficial conversations - it's as straightforward as using a few key phrases.

Try them, and before you know it, you'll use them naturally and begin adapting and developing your own. 

The Consilium team

By far, the number one self improvement my readers want to work on in 2021 is improving emotional intelligence.

They're easy changes really, just a matter of memorising phrases. Let's get started.


1.  "Tell me more."

This is one of the most powerful phrases in the universe, and it's my favorite one for improving emotional intelligence. It's also nearly all-purpose. You can say, "Tell me more" in almost any situation, and you'll do things like:

Reassure the other person in a conversation that you're interested and listening.

Avoid the temptation of turning the focus of a conversation from the other person to yourself.

Set yourself up for silence, which as we'll see below is a powerful tool that emotionally intelligent people use.

Just imagine any conversation you've had--especially if it turned awkward or unsatisfying. Imagine replacing however you responded with this three-word phrase.

For example, imagine a friend tells you: "It's hard to focus on work, since I'm stuck at home with the kids doing 'virtual school' on a computer all day."

Most of us have been trained in that situation to say something like, "It's hard at our house, too," or "Can't you just have your kids work downstairs while you work upstairs?"

But neither is really satisfying. Try replying instead with our three-word magic phrase, 

"Tell me more" and you reach a deeper level of conversation.

You're giving the emotionally intelligent response, inviting your friend or colleague to share, explore, and maybe even find a solution.


2.  "Thanks for your understanding."

We're going to use this phrase as a replacement for something else: "Sorry."

Not that you should never apologize. Of course you can, when you have wronged someone and you want to make amends. But many of us use that word too often, when we don't truly mean to offer an apology.


  • "Sorry I missed the meeting."
  • "Sorry we can't meet your deadline."
  • "Sorry I didn't go to your party."

So much about emotional intelligence involves shifting the focus of interactions from yourself to others. But the pseudo-apologies in these situations put the focus squarely on you. 

Also, you were probably taught as a child that if you say you're sorry for something, you should try never to do it again. But I'll bet you're probably going to miss more meetings in the future, right? There will be deadlines you won't meet. You'll skip parties once in a while.

Consider instead how the message changes if you phrase each of these examples like this:

  • "My boss needed my help on something at the last minute, so I missed the meeting. Thanks for understanding."
  • "We have so many commitments right now, and shipments are delayed, so I don't think we can meet your deadline. Thanks for understanding."
  • "I wanted to go to your party, but by the time I got home, it was so late. I realized I'd only be able to come by for 10 minutes. Thanks for understanding."

It's subtle, but this phrase combines gratitude, sympathy, and other-focus, all in one package. It's very powerful.


3.  "Hello."

Wait, you might say. "Hello"? Doesn't everybody say hello?

Actually, no. Pay attention to how people open conversations, and you'll see that they more often start with open-ended questions: Questions that everyone knows they have no desire to know the answer to.

I'm talking about things like:

  • "How are you doing?"
  • "What's going on?"
  • "How are you?"

It's the rare person who wants a truthful answer: "Well, I have a headache, and the check engine light is on in my car, but my daughter got some good news the other day about her college applications, and I..."

Uh-huh. I mean, if you're truly a friend or truly interested, great, maybe you want to know.

But the vast majority of the time, we ask these conversation openers expecting rote replies--phrase uttered so quickly and automatically that the phrases become contracted words:

  • "Good-n-you?"
  • "Aw, nothing."
  • "Notsobad." 

At the very least, even if you do care about the person's answer, everyone knows that your goal is to move past the answer and get to the point of your conversation: "Sorry to hear about your headache, but I need your help to..."

I know this sounds incredibly semantic, maybe even hair-splitting. But opening instead with a declaration--basically anything that doesn't involve a disingenuous question that you don't really want the answer to--is an improvement.


  • "Hello."
  • "Great to see you."
  • "Thanks for coming by."

See what I mean? These are neutral/positive messages--neither particularly other-centered nor self-centered. Try them out, and I think you'll notice an improvement.


4.  "Am I making sense?"

This is another super-powerful phrase, and you're going to use it in place of two others: "Do you understand?" or "Do you have any questions?"


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