Making Your Team Work

Practical advice on how you can change your team for the better.

Ten Back Pocket Phrases to Disarm Conflict

How to stay focused on productive discussions

Paper stuffed in a back pocket

As I say all the time, “teamwork is hard work.” It requires great listening, genuine empathy, and a willingness to flex to what’s best for the team—even when it isn’t great for you. That kind of teamwork leads to high performance, but it takes a lot of effort. I'm willing to bet that some days you just don’t have the energy to give it 100 percent.

On those days, when it’s tempting to get into an argument or to get mired in an argument, it’s really nice to have a few back pocket phrases that signal you’re a good team player and not looking to pick a fight.

Here are my 10 go-to lines.

1. What’s the most important thing for you? This will tell you what your teammates are paying attention to, what’s important to them while giving you clues about what won't make it on their radar.

2. Where are you at with this?If you find yourself feeling a little less empathetic than you should, use this line to demonstrate your interest in your teammate’s view on the issue. Once you hear more about their state of mind, you can respond appropriately.

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3. How does that land with you? This phrase shows that you’re open to other ways of looking at an issue. It’s a great way to get perspective on an issue you might be too close to.

4. How are you thinking about this issue? More insight on what lenses team members are using.

5. How would you approach this question? This demonstrates that you value your teammates’ ideas and unique perspectives and that you would value their help.

6. What have you done when you've experienced something similar? Provides information on their background and also their baggage and biases.

7. What should I be worried about? This is a gem because it addresses unspoken resistance and reduces the likelihood of passive-aggressive behavior after the fact.

8. What do you need to feel good about moving forward? Tells you what team members are paying attention to and where to go from there.

9. What have I missed? Gives your teammates an opening to bring up something that's important to them.

And the most important thing you can say to improve team effectiveness and reduce the tensions on your team...

10. Thank you. 

Liane Davey, Ph.D., researches team effectiveness. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done.

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