The Incredible Power Of Three Little Words

Words that soak into your ears are whispered … not yelled.

A man was going door to door, soliciting donations for a local charity. When he came to the door of a preacher and asked him for money, the preacher said, “I’m sorry. I’m just a poor preacher.”

The solicitor replied, “I know. I heard you preach last Sunday.”

In a similar sense, some people are poor communicators. They don’t know how to build rapport, show respect, and gain the trust of others. They don’t know how to motivate others to give their very best, and they don’t know how to elicit their full and willing cooperation.

Of course, I teach all those things in my keynotes and seminars on “The Leadership Payoff: How the Best Leaders Bring out the Best in Others … And So Can You.”

But to get you started, you need to learn and appropriately use the ten magical three-word phrases. I gave you five of them last week. Let’s go through the other five right now.

6. I thank you.

Gratitude is exquisite. And those who express a great deal of gratitude always seem to have the most friends, the best friends, and the closest friends … versus those who take people (and what they do) for granted. In fact, I would wager to say that the people who have the smallest, most constricted circle of friends are those who do not have an attitude of gratitude. They seldom say, “I thank you.”

As I’ve traveled and spoken around the world, I’ve learned that these three words might be the most important words for me to share with others, especially if I learn to speak to them in their language. These three words have brought out smiles, started relationships, and opened doors to business opportunities that might not have come about any other way.

The secret is to be genuinely thankful and genuinely humble when you say these three words. As the famed basketball coach John Wooden taught me, “Talent is God given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be grateful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.”

Not too long ago, I received these three words … “I thank you” … from Father Philip Chircop, a Jesuit priest from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. He wrote, “I have been reading your ‘Tuesday Tip’ for many years, and your tips have often informed and reformed me as I deliver retreats.

So I am taking some time to send you this short note as I hold you deep in my heart, with deep gratitude, for the gift that you are to so very many people.”

He went on to say: “May your day be blessed, May your words be blessed, May your dreams and desires be blessed, May your life be blessed, and May this present moment be blessed.”

His words made a profound impact on my life. Go out there and tell people “I thank you.” It’s one of the greatest of all motivational phrases and one of the surest relationship builders.

7. Count on me.

You’ve heard the old saying, “A friend walks in when others walk out.” It’s true. Loyalty is an essential ingredient of any true friendship. It’s the emotional glue that bonds people together. When troubles come, a good friend is there … indicating you can “count on me.”

But it’s also a key ingredient in any successful business. They have loyal customers … because they can count on that business and the people in that business.

This magical three-word phrase is all about MATURITY, dependability, integrity, and keeping one’s word. By contrast, the IMMATURE have excuses for everything. They are the chronically tardy, the no-shows, and the gutless wonders who fold in crises. Their lives are a maze of broken promises, unfinished business, and former friends and customers.

In a world with so many “immature” people, we desperately need people who say “Count on me” and mean every word of it.

None of us want to be in surgery and hear the doctor say something like, “Save that. We may need it for the autopsy … Did anyone see where I left my scalpel? … Oh oh. I think I just removed the wrong organ … or … I forgot. Why did we open this guy up again?” No, we want a doctor we can count on.

Peter Marshall, the former Congressional clergyman, made it quite clear. He said, “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” In other words, we want people in our lives that do more than talk, promise, and pontificate. We need people we can count on.

Now you may be saying, “I use those three magical words … ‘Count on me’ … and people can count on me. But what can I do to encourage other people to follow through so I can count on them?”

ASK for what you want. ASK them to be accountable. It can work wonders.

William Grimes talked about that in a “New York Times” article entitled “In War Against No-Shows, Restaurants Get Tougher.” He wrote about Gordon Sinclair, the owner of Gordon restaurant in Chicago, who had an epiphany when he began adding up the cost of no-shows and found that the grand total was $900,000 a year, a figure that got him thinking, fast.

He made a change in the restaurant’s procedure. He instructed his receptionists to stop saying, “Please call us if you change your plans,” and start saying, “WILL you call us if you change your plans?” His no-show rate dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent! In other words, by asking a question and eliciting a response, Sinclair created a sense of obligation. And getting that soft commitment made a huge impact on his bottom line.

So if you want other people to be more accountable, ask for the behavior you want them to exhibit.

8. I understand you.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a work team or a family group, people become closer, enjoy each other more, and get more done when they feel the other person understands them. Somehow understanding conveys a certain sense of respect and acceptance … even though you may disagree with one another.

The famed Dale Carnegie often talked about the six ways you can make people like you. And at the very core of those six ways was his prescription. He said, “Become genuinely interested in other people … Be a good listener … Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

The same thing could be said for great leaders. They’re great listeners. They know that no one has all the answers, so they listen more than they speak. And in the process they learn so much more about a variety of topics and come to understand other people so much better.

What about you? Are you saying “I understand you” often enough? And are you doing the listening work you have to do so you truly understand the other people in your life and work?

9. I forgive you.

If you aspire to be a leader, you must learn to forgive. As leadership expert Phil Van Hooser says, “A strong argument could be made that grudges are the equivalent of cancer to leadership.”

In other words, if you don’t deal with your gripes and grudges, if you don’t bring them out in the open, if you don’t learn from them, if you don’t resolve them in an expeditious manner, you’ll destroy your ability to lead and motivate your followers. They’ll be afraid that their mistakes from years before are still fresh in your mind and may be used against them at some point in the future.

Of course, some people think that an expression of forgiveness will weaken their authority. Actually, just the opposite is the case. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

When you say to somebody else “I forgive you,” you’re saying that everybody makes mistakes. You’re saying you still accept the other person as a person of value. And you’re saying you want the relationship to get past the problem and onto something better.

By contrast, if you refuse to forgive, you not only kill off the future of that relationship, you also hurt yourself. As Gautama Buddha taught, “Holding onto anger is like grasping onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned.”

So the next time you’re reluctant to forgive somebody else, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Can you afford to pay the price of holding on to your grudges?

10. I take responsibility.

In today’s business world, “engagement” and “accountability” are popular words. But they’re also critically important words. After all, when “engagement” and “accountability” are the norm, an employee becomes a professional, a group becomes a team, and a business begins to make a profit. So no matter how good or bad the economy is or will be, there’s always room for a person who takes responsibility.

In fact, when you study highly successful people, the most identifiable quality is their intensity of purpose. You can see them taking responsibility. When they want something, they learn what they need to learn, so they can do what they need to do, in order to achieve what they want to achieve. They do more than get good ideas. They take responsibility for turning those ideas into reality. As Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, put it, “Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that makes a difference.”

Could that be said of you? That you’re proactive? In “The E-Myth Revisited,” author Michael E. Gerber takes it a step further. He says, “The difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively, while everyone else is created by their lives, passively waiting to see where life takes them next. The difference between the two is the difference between living fully and just existing.”

To have great relationships with your customers and coworkers, to have relationships with your friends and families that really work, take more responsibility. Stop making excuses. When people hear you say “I take responsibility,” they can see that you mean it.

As German-born missionary and Nobel Laureate, Albert Schweitzer taught, “Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will — his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals.”

To conclude, learn these ten, magical three-word phrases. Live them out. Speak them out. And you’ll make quick and dramatic improvements in your communication and in your relationships.

Action:  Use each of these phrases at least once this week.