5 Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 4 of 5

This is the fourth in a series of five posts on short (seven words or less) powerful phrases. Each phrase distills the essence of a key part of approaching trust-based relationships in business.

Why focus on short phrases like this? Because the concise expression of several emotionally powerful concepts packs a punch. Such phrases feel profound. They catch the listener’s attention. They force the listener to reflect. They are short enough to remember every word, and they resonate in the mind of the listener. 

Today’s Phrase: (Four words) 

            “Tell me more – please.”

This is the best, universal, skeleton-key phrase for getting your counterpart in a conversation to continue the dialogue, and in fact to go deeper.

When to Use It:

  • A key technique for getting a dialogue to continue, gain momentum, and go deeper.
  • Not at the outset of a conversation, but after two or three interactions, when you want more.


  • “So, this is your third job in this industry? Interesting…tell me more – please.” 
  • “That sounds a little different from what I usually hear people say about this topic: tell me more – please.
  • “You know both John and Mary? My my – tell me more – please.”

Why It Works.

These four words draw on several aspects of personal relationship as it develops in a conversation. Those include Open ended questions, Gift giving, and Reciprocity.   

Open-ended Questions. Both open-ended and closed questions have their place. In this context, an open-ended question allows the respondent to define the terms of his or her answer – as opposed to the questioner defining them. Among other things, this suggests that the questioner is giving up his or her control over the conversation, and turning it over to the respondent. 

Gift-giving. Use of this phrase early in a conversation conveys that the questioner is prepared to offer the gift of time. It’s the opposite of suggesting that you have limited time, and that you intend to control the meeting.  

    • This gift-giving sense of the phrase can be amplified with body language. You might lean in, put your pen or pencil (or laptop) to the side, and indicate that you are prepared for as much time as the respondent might want to spend on the topic.

Reciprocity. The “please” at the end of the phrase, coupled with the sense of giving the gift of time discussed above, establishes that you are engaged in simultaneously giving a gift, and asking a favor. But the favor is actually a form of another gift, cleverly disguised as a favor. It suggests that you are so interested in the respondent’s answer that you are asking for it – as a favor to you. (A favor, sincerely asked for, is a compliment; it ‘obligates’ the respondent to return the favor in some form). 

The effect of this double-gift offering is to set up a pattern of reciprocity. If you are on the receiving end of this gift (“take as much time as you want, I am truly interested for my own sake in what you have to say, and want nothing other than to pay attention to you”), it leads the respondent to want to return the favor. We all appreciate sincerely being paid attention, and become inclined to, afterwards, listen as carefully to what the speaker in turn has to say. 

Next Blogpost:  Short Phrase #5 of 5: “What’s behind that?”

Selling to the Primal Instinct in All of Us

If you’re in sales, this blogpost is for you.

If you have a toddler at home, ditto.

And if you’re a toddler parent who sells for a living, you just hit the jackpot. Listen up.

I recently wrote an article on selling called The Point of Listening is Not What You Hear, But the Listening Itself.  (Or, read the shorter, blog version).

The title pretty much says it. A lot of sales programs focus on listening for content; but unless the customer feels heard, all you’ve done is a brain-suck, and that feels invasive to the customer.

That idea won’t be new to some salespeople, or to afficionados of communications theory.  But I had no idea how firmly based it is in develomental history.

From the NYTimes Feb. 7, we have “Coping with the Caveman in the Crib.” 

If there is such a person as a “baby whisperer,” it is the pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, whose uncanny ability to quiet crying babies became the best-selling book “The Happiest Baby on the Block.”

Dr. Karp’s method [works with] fussy babies who are quickly, almost eerily soothed by a combination of tight swaddling, loud shushing and swinging, which he says mimics the sensations of the womb.

Now Dr. Karp, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, has turned his attention to the toddler years…A wailing baby is nothing compared with the defiant behavior and tantrums common among toddlers.

But Dr. Karp’s method of toddler communication is not for the self-conscious. It involves bringing yourself, both mentally and physically, down to a child’s level when he or she is upset. The goal is not to give in to a child’s demands, but to communicate in a child’s own language of “toddler-ese.”

This means using short phrases with lots of repetition, and reflecting the child’s emotions in your tone and facial expressions. And, most awkward, it means repeating the very words the child is using, over and over again.

For instance, a toddler throwing a tantrum over a cookie might wail, “I want it. I want it. I want cookie now.”

Often, a parent will adopt a soothing tone saying, “No, honey, you have to wait until after dinner for a cookie.”

Such a response will, almost certainly, make matters worse. “It’s loving, logical and reasonable,” notes Dr. Karp. “And it’s infuriating to a toddler. Now they have to say it over harder and louder to get you to understand.”

Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands.

“You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

It’s hard to imagine an adult talking like this in a public place. But Dr. Karp notes that this same form of “active listening” is a method adults use all the time. The goal is not simply to repeat words but to make it clear that you hear someone’s complaint.  “If you were upset and fuming mad, I might say, ‘I know. I know. I know. I get it. I’m really really sorry. I’m sorry.’ That sounds like gibberish out of context,” he says.

On his DVD, Dr. Karp demonstrates the method. Within seconds, teary-eyed toddlers calm and look at him quizzically as he repeats their concerns back at them.

“The goal is not simply to repeat words, but to make it clear that you hear someone’s complaint.”

The point of listening is not what you hear, but the act of listening itself. Or, to be more correct, the result of that act, namely the customer’s experience of being heard.

Sometimes what works on kids also works on adults.  Sometimes not.  My tummy tells me this is the former.

And it’s basic. Primal.  It’s about empathy, not about exchange of cognitive information.

Don’t listen to do a brain-suck. Listen so the customer (or your toddler) feels heard.

And to all you salesperson/parents out there—you’re welcome.  Wish I’d’a knew it!