Four Powerful Phrases

There’s a quartet of phrases that I use a lot, but which I don’t hear as often as I believe their usefulness justifies.

The first is “I’m open to it.”

I most frequently use this phrase when faced with information or perspectives that don’t resonate with my existing worldview or body of knowledge.

Rather than dismissing something that seems discordant or jarring to me, outright, this phrase helps me express an openness to being convinced that tends to keep conversations going, rather than shutting them down, and it tends to encourage those on the other side of a disagreement to maintain an open mind, as well.

Then there’s “Tell me about that.”

This is an example of what I’ve heard called a “conversational doorknob,” in that it invites the person on the other end to open the door into a full-on discussion, but it also leaves them the option of providing a more concise, summarized explication of whatever it is they’re talking about.

It gives them the opportunity to choose whether to take that next step into a more complex conversation, or not, depending on their preferences, while also being open-ended enough that they can extrapolate in whichever direction they think would be the most meaningful or interesting.

I’m also a big fan of “I don’t know.”

Being capable of admitting ignorance is a strength, not a weakness, and one of the better ways to become more knowledgeable (about information, but also perspectives, experiences, etc) is to make clear that you lack whatever it is you hope to gain, which in turn provides other people an opening to help you.

There are social and sometimes professional incentives (implied or overt) to conceal our ignorance, lest we tarnish our reputations for mastery, but I would argue that those who are willing to admit they don’t know things are more likely to actually be knowledgeable and capable, because those who are unwilling to do so leave a lot of growth opportunities on the table.

And finally, there’s “I appreciate…”

This one is useful as an alternative to “thank you” (and everyone benefits from more frequent expressions of gratitude), but I get the most mileage out of it when using it instead of “like,” as in “I appreciate how you cropped the image to emphasize this portion of the composition” or “I appreciate how they orchestrated this event.”

I find that many of us casually carve up the world into things we like and don’t like, which can limit us because we then self-define in terms of these preferences, resulting in a self-enforced blindness toward anything positive we might discover in the stuff we don’t like (and the same toward negative aspects of what we like).

Deftly wielding appreciation can help us bypass these self-definition-linked biases, though, encouraging us to find things that were done well in (for instance) a piece of artwork we don’t care for, or in a genre of music that isn’t really our thing.

This helps us avoid closing ourselves off from new discoveries (about the world and ourselves), while also leaving us more open to developing “likes” that aren’t immediately obvious, but which we can discover and cultivate (if we choose to) over time.

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