7 Power Phrases for Influence

What you say and how you say it can make all the difference between hearing yes or no, building or destroying relationships, gaining buy-in or making people feel forced to do something. This week I want to share 7 power phrases that, when used at the right time, can help you be more influential. 

Yes, and…

Kelly Leonard, a 25+ year veteran of the world famous Second City improv group, wrote a book called Yes, and… Improv comedy is built around the idea of “yes, and..” which means accepting whatever comes your way then adding to it. 

According to Kelly, all too often we’re quick to dismiss ideas out of hand in business. That’s unfortunate because those same ideas, if accepted and built on, could lead to innovative solutions. It’s about having an open mind and seeing possibilities instead of problems and roadblocks. 

No, but…

Jim Carrey played Carl Allen in the movie Yes Man, where he had to say yes to everything that came his way. It was a feel good, funny movie, but we know it’s not reality to say yes to everyone who makes a request of us. However, when you have to tell someone no then follow with “but”, you can segue into potentially acceptable solutions. That’s because this phrase takes the focus off of the unacceptable option and focuses more on actual possibilities. Remember, people usually forget what comes before but so strategically using this approach can be a pathway to an acceptable solution. 

Thanks, because…

I heard Kelly Leonard talk about “thanks, because…” recently on the Behavioral Grooves podcast. If someone shares something you disagree with or cannot do, look for the good in what was presented. Whatever positives you find, thank the person for sharing their point of view, say “because” then tell them what you learned or why you appreciate what they shared.

This approach is a strong relationship builder because you’ve not dismissed the person and acknowledged common ground.

Sure, as soon as…

Many years ago I read about this phrase in the Toastmasters magazine. Here’s a very typical scenario between a child and parent. 

Child, “Can I go to the movies?”

Parent, “No, you haven’t finished your homework.”

This approach comes across negatively. How about using this positive response instead, “Sure, as soon as you finish your homework.” In this scenario you’re giving permission but with a condition that needs to be met first. Use this approach and you’ll be able to tell your kids, “I always say yes to you.” 

How am I supposed to do that?

Chris Voss is the author of Never Split the Difference and one of the leading negotiation experts in the world. He used to negotiate hostage situations for the FBI and always got the hostages back safely. As you might imagine, hostage takers often make extreme demands and sometimes business negotiators make outrageous demands too. Voss suggests tossing the ball back in their court by asking how you’re supposed to meet that extreme demand. This approach often gets the other person to moderate their position and/or begin to collaborate on how you can work together to find an acceptable solution. 

I’m going to ask you something and if you’re not comfortable answering I’ll understand.

I’ve used this approach for years when it comes to difficult conversations around sensitive topics. My first recollection was with a former coworker. She was a black female who was a manager in a different division of the company, so we were only slightly acquainted. We bumped into each other at the airport and decided to sit next to each other on the flight once we realized we were heading to the same place. Shortly after takeoff I said, “I’m going to ask you a question and, if you’re not comfortable, you don’t have to answer. What’s it like to be a black woman working for our company?” She didn’t stop talking the whole flight and I gained a new perspective on race and gender. 

An opening like this gives people the freedom as to whether or not to answer. Never underestimate how much people want to retain their personal freedom! Using this approach, I’ve never had someone say, “Thanks, but I’d prefer not to talk.”

If you can’t do it, I’ll understand.

I read about this approach in Bob Burg’s book The Art of Persuasion then heard him mention it on the Negotiate Anything podcast. Bob’s phrase is similar to the opening I just described in the last section. 

Sometimes you interact with people who have the power to do, or not do, what you want. Acknowledging that and giving them the freedom to choose will work in favor of you far more than it will fail.


I hope you give some of the aforementioned approaches a try because I think you’ll find them highly effective, just as I have. Use them correctly and ethically to up your influence game. 

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence. 

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His second book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller in several categories. 

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 380,000 people around the world.

2 replies
  1. Jeff Wasserstrom
    Jeff Wasserstrom says:

    Brian – thank you for sharing some excellent information on replying to what can be difficult questions and / or shedding some light on how to respond in a more positive manner. It reminds me of Cameron Mitchell’s philosophy which is noted by the title of his book – “Yes Is The Answer What Is The Question?”

    Have a Terrific Tuesday!


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