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Magical Phrases That Get You and Your Staff What You Need

This article was based on episode 118 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get $100 Off AmyK’s The Power of Profitable Conversations Online Course when you become a member at

The quality of conversations in the workplace can make or break your team. Hard conversations are inevitable, with each team member bringing to the table their own needs and ideas. As AmyK Hutchens so aptly puts it, almost everything we want is on the other side of a tough conversation.

AmyK witnessed this truth as a communications expert, training and consulting for over nineteen years. She is now the Amazon bestselling author of GET IT: Five Steps to the Sex, Salary, and Success You Want. AmyK leads explains how to use her magical phrases to strengthen your team and get what you want from a conversation..


As AmyK jokes, “No one really wants to go to another meeting, but everybody loves to go to a robust conversation.” To turn yet another meeting into a discussion your staff eagerly looks forward to attending, use the magical phrase #1: How might we?’

Great managers generate interest in the conversation before anyone even enters the room. Start by sending an email to your team for an upcoming meeting that includes an open-ended “how might we…” question. The question should allow people to reflect, think, and predict, such as “How might we have one of the best brand campaigns that we’ve ever had?” By creating space for possibility and collective conversation, you change the meeting from “my meeting” to “our meeting”.

In addition, you can co-create an agenda using “how might we” as the framework. Share your “how might we” overarching question and ask people to send back one or two questions that they think the meeting should address. By processing the question beforehand and coming up with some of their own, your team will show up to the meeting with their brains already actively working on the problem, excited to add in input.


There are times when you need to assign work to your team members. This could be at the end of a meeting, delegating new tasks to them, or setting up a new opportunity. Instead of assigning work, AMyK suggested empowering people to decide on their own by asking “would you be willing…” If a team member comes back to you and says, “No, I would not be willing”, ask them what they would be willing to do. This gentle way of setting up action plans allows for people to feel more in control and autonomous.


Sometimes we get heated during a conversation and instead of being a productive conflict, it devolves into a frustrating back and forth. When this happens, it’s helpful to take some time and then open the conversation again.

Acknowledge the difficult discussion, your part in it, and your desire to understand them better For example, “The other day we had a conversation and I reacted strongly. Today, I want to have a conversation with a much more thoughtful response. I want to hear and understand you.”

It can be helpful to use magical phrase #3: Is the story I made up true? When emotions run high, we create stories about reality and what the other person is thinking. Say something like, “The other day, I reacted strongly. I have this story in my head that we weren't really understanding each other and that I was triggering you. Is that true?”

By doing this, you hand them some power, but don’t give yours away, and effectively knock the wind out of their sails. If they respond defensively and try to sidetrack the conversation down the “bunny hole” of blame, refocus the conversation. Try saying, “I hear you but, that's a separate conversation. I'm totally willing to talk about that another time. In this particular conversation, I just really want to understand your perspective. I want to hear more.”


Unlike the earlier magical phrases, #4 is an internal mantra. In order to honor our own self worth and boundaries, AmyK advocates for a ‘Three Strikes, I'm out’ rule with difficult managers. Simply put, she mentors her clients to be willing to have three tough conversations with a toxic boss before leaving. She outlines below the process of this back and forth.

1. Begin With Connecting

Lean in to understand where they’re coming from and what their concerns are. For example, if your boss gets upset and screams at you, engage him in a discussion the next day. First, recognize the emotion. “Hey, yesterday you sounded so frustrated. It seems like this project is really important to you.” Then, ask what you can do to help. “Do you need me to check in more? Is there something I can do that will make you feel better about what's going on?”

2. Use Some Power Play By Emphasizing The Expected Behavior

If your manager continues to treat you poorly, be specific about behavior that she needs to change. Begin again by recognizing the emotion and asking for clarification on the offensive comment that was made.“You sounded really frustrated this morning. I want to understand, can you explain your thinking behind the comment that you made?”

Reinforce the behavior that you do want rather than emphasizing what you didn’t like. “You know, this project is really important to me, but it’s also really important to me that we have a respectful interaction. Going forward, I’d like to make sure we talk respectfully to each other.”

3. Draw Firmer Boundaries

If the offensive behavior continues, it’s time to draw your line in the sand. If you are in a position to walk away, do it. If you’re not, do your best to set boundaries that protect you from the toxic behavior. “This is making it hard for me to contribute effectively. I know I can do better work if XYZ...”

Every conversation is an opportunity. By asking questions and requesting feedback before a meeting, we allow for team members to assert their own autonomy and voice. By advocating for our own boundaries and needs in a calm, connected way, we address issues and pave the way for understanding. When we engage in these important exchanges, we allow for real collaboration, leading to robust, productive conversations in the workplace that ensure success.


Get $100 Off AmyK’s The Power of Profitable Conversations Online Course when you become a member at

This article was based on episode 118 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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