What to Say: Work and Career

Scripts for 7 ticklish situations.

Posted Jul 15, 2020

No author listed, piqsels, Public Domain
Source: No author listed, piqsels, Public Domain

Here’s a sample script for seven ticklish situations that people commonly encounter in their worklife. Of course, you won’t want to spout a script verbatim: Unless you’re a good actor, you’ll come off stilted. Another reason to not memorize a spiel is that you’ll want to say what’s appropriate to your style of communicating and to who you're speaking with. So adapt or scrap these scripts to fit.

 I call out principles of communication that are embedded in the scripts. I do that only the first time a principle is being used.

When you’ve been criticized

"I appreciate your candor."  (Everyone likes earned praise.) "Is there more you want to explain about this?" (That enables you to get more information and buy time to calm down.)

If you want to improve, say something like, "Well, I’d like to improve by (insert what you’d do.)  What do you think?" J.W. Marriott said that the four most powerful words are, “What do you think?” Consider adding that after a suggestion.

If you’re feeling defensive and aren’t sure whether you’re right to defend yourself, say something like, "That’s a lot to take in. Would you mind if I reflect on this and get back to you tomorrow?"

If you’re sure s/he’s wrong or that there are extenuating circumstances, you might say, "I can understand why you might think that. If I were in your shoes, I might feel the same way. But (insert your explanation.) What do you think?"

Principle: Legitimize the other person’s position before offering an alternative.

Confronting a problem employee or someone who is working at your home

"I’m concerned about your work (for example, its quality and timeliness — and give a brief example.) Is there something I’m not understanding?"

Principle: Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.’ I’d add that it’s also often the soul of persuasiveness: The longer your pitch, the more of the interaction’s energy comes from you, which tends to lessen the other person’s investment in what you’re proposing.

Listen well, being open to the possibility of extenuating circumstances, or that it’s a one-time problem, or that your merely having brought it up will yield sufficient improvement. But if not, ask, "So, where do you think we should go from here?"

Principle: Ask the criticized person to propose a solution. Only if a decent one isn’t forthcoming,  should you suggest or even mandate one.

If you believe there’s a decent chance the person’s suggestion will yield sufficient improvement, say something like, "Fair enough. Let’s chat in a couple of days to see how things are going."

If you're insufficiently convinced that the person’s plan will work, say something like, “How about you do X and we’ll check back with each other in a couple of days?”

Asking for the sale

Because this is Psychology Today, let’s take the example of a counselor who’d like a prospective client to make an appointment.

"So, in light of what you’ve said (insert a paraphrase), I think I could be of help. We’d likely first do X, then Y, and within Z sessions, I’d hope that you’d (insert likely improvement.) I have an opening this Tuesday at 11 a.m. and one on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Will either work for you?"

Principle: If you’re proposing a solution, consider offering two choices, both acceptable to you.

Asking for a raise or promotion

A good time to ask for a raise is when you’ve just been praised by your boss and, ideally, when your work group or the organization is doing well financially. At that point, say something like, "Thank you for the kind words. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished."

Principle: If used judiciously, humor can leaven a stressful situation.

"So perhaps this is a good time to ask for a raise (or promotion.) I’ve listed my accomplishments and projections for what I could do in the coming months. What do you think?"

A job seeker cold-contacting a target employer

You’d like to work for a particular employer but no appropriate job is advertised, so you decide to leave voicemail for a person who potentially could hire you.

"They say it’s important in life to ask for what want, so forgive me for doing so here."

Principle: Yes, ask for what you need and perhaps want but, as appropriate, soften the ask with such words as, “I’m wondering whether,” “What do you think of the idea of…” or even "Forgive me but..."

"I’m a successful (insert your line of work) and looking for my next opportunity. As I reflected on where I’d fit best and make the best contribution, working for you in (insert role) rose to the top. Here’s why, (Explain in a sentence or two.) Of course, I looked for such a position on your website, but found none. But perhaps it’s worth our chatting briefly to see if there is a fit and if I could be of help to you. My phone number is X and my email address is Y. Thanks for considering it."

When you have the skills but not the education required for the job

"I was tempted to not apply for the job because I don’t meet the education requirement, but I like to think I have real-world experience and learnings that may end up being of greater value to you. (Insert three good examples. Or perhaps better, attach a document laying out what you’ve done and your major learnings.) What do you think?"

Answering a job interview question about a gap in employment

Of course, it would be nice if you could honestly say, "As a person in demand, I have the luxury of holding out for a very well-suited position." Alas, that isn't always the case. Here’s what you might say in a more typical situation:

"I wish I could say that as a zillionaire and took time off to sail the world. Or that I am in such demand that I can be extraordinarily picky. Neither is the case. While I believe I’m a solid employee: reliable, ethical, reasonably intelligent, I’m not unique in that. Especially in our COVID-decimated job market, I continue to look for employment that both the employer and I feel good about. I’m pleased that you called me for an interview and look forward to exploring whether we're a match."

Again, these scripts are merely models to work from. Are there any principles or phrases that you want to remember?

I read this aloud on YouTube.