Always look on the bright side of pandemics. (Apologies to Monty Python.)
Because with challenges come opportunities -- and this situation presents an incredible opportunity to train yourself to make other people like you more, to listen to your suggestions, and to root for your success.
Much of the power of communication has to do with word choice. And because we're all doing so much work via Zoom, or Microsoft Teams (or whatever), I almost hate to mention how simple it now is to say the right thing.
The reason? You can cheat. More accurately, you can post "cheat sheet" notes around the perimeter of your computer screen, reminding you to weave certain magic phrases into your conversations that are proven to evoke positive reactions from other people.
Seriously, it's so easy now that it's almost not fair. You can make your own list, but here are 10 phrases that might help you get started -- and why.
(Update: Based on reader reactions, I came up with a follow-up edition, too: 10 More Magic Phrases to Use in Zoom Calls and Video Meetings.)
1. "Allow me to be upfront."
I'll start with this one, because it's a phrase for the beginning of conversations. Another variation I like a lot, and that I borrowed from the movie The Untouchables: "Let me pay you the compliment of being blunt."
These phrases set expectations, signal honesty, and imply that you don't want to waste anyone else's time. You recognize that not everything you have to say will be easy to hear, but that you want to treat other people with respect.
2. "Tell me more."
This is the best non-judgmental, opening, warm reaction you can have to almost anything anyone else will say on a work video call. Everybody wants to hear that someone else wants to hear more from them. The only time not to use this? When someone has just finished speaking at length and explaining their point in depth.
3. "What do you think?"
If you value people's opinions, and--related, but important--if you want them to think that you value their opinions, this is a magic phrase. Ask this question, and you'll increase your charisma. It also applies in almost every life situation--not just video business meetings, but even casual interactions among strangers.
4. "How can I help?"
Most people are wired to be grateful to those who offer legitimate help. The power of this phrase is also clearest when we juxtapose it with what you shouldn't say, which is, "Let me know if I can help." That phrase requires an intermediate step on the part of your audience, which makes it less likely you'll have the opportunity to assist.
5. "Please/thank you."
If you don't habitually use the words "please" and "thank you," start doing so. Politeness costs literally nothing, but these words engender positive reactions. In fact, if you have trouble remembering, put these two phrases in big letters right at the top of your computer. Sprinkle them in at first, even when it seems a bit odd to do so.
6. "You're welcome."
Welcome to my personal crusade to get people to say this two-word phrase instead of "No problem" or "Yep" or the like. Saying "you're welcome" drives home that you agree that you've done something worthy of thanks--and that you did so because the person for whom you did the favor is worth it, too. It's a positive reflection on both you and them.
7. "I'm sorry, I interrupted you."
I know that I can dominate conversations sometimes if I don't watch myself. It's my personality, I suppose, but avoiding this isn't just about being polite. It's about listening. Because if you're not listening, you're probably not learning. Also, in case it's not clear--say this phrase and then shut up. Make it a real invitation for other people to talk.
8. "I've noticed that you do ______ very well."
You're a great salesperson. You're a good listener. You're super-adaptable. You're an incredible teacher or mentor. Whatever it is, find something good and truthful to say about people you're talking with, and say it. Also, prefacing with "I've noticed that you ..." makes clear this isn't a one-time observation.
9. "I wonder how we can fix this."
There's rarely reason to assign blame (rarely but not never). However, truly charismatic people, and truly great leaders, are the ones who manage to assemble a committed team to tackle problems. No complaints, no divisions. The emphasis is on "we" and "fix." Just a simple, seven-word statement about looking together for solutions.
10. "Let me find out."
You're not just willing to help. You're willing and eager to go out of your way to do so. At the same time, you want people to make decisions based on data to the maximum extent possible. But honestly, I don't mean to overanalyze this one. When there are gaps in your knowledge, you seek to fill them. Good message.
I'm sure you'll have your own phrases to add. Some might even be industry-specific.
Just remember, the point isn't to rely on Post-it notes with smart, charismatic sayings for your entire business life. It's to train yourself to think to say these kinds of things automatically.
It's like muscle memory for charisma and leadership.
Because someday, the pandemic will end. But the almost magic way that people react to these kinds of positive phrases will last a very long time.