(Be sure to check out the related column: 37 More Words That Will Make People Like You Even More.)
First impressions can lead to lasting impressions, which can lead to likability and happiness. So a lot of people will tell you to dress better, read more (so you'll have interesting things to talk about), and ensure that your online presence is respectable (because many people will check you out online before meeting in person).
But, how far will that get you? Despite what many people would like to believe, the things you say often make an even greater early impression than the things you do. To take advantage of that and get you started easily, here are 19 words--grouped into a handful of easy phrases--that you should make a habit of saying every day. They're virtually guaranteed to improve your standing with others if you use them often enough.
Words No. 1 and 2: "Sir" and "ma'am"
American culture is pretty informal compared to many other places in the world, but a little bit of formality can really make you stand out in a positive way. I carry this inclination from the military, and also from having been a lawyer in the federal court system. These are environments in which people use the titles "Sir" and "Ma'am" constantly--not just in talking with high ranking military officers, but also addressing civilians.
I know that this doesn't work in every situation, but using these titles can be a sign of respect that gets people's attention. It can be important in professional relationships, especially when dealing with people you don't know well, and who are older or more experienced than you.
Words No. 3 and 4: "You're welcome."
Sometime in fairly recent history it seems people stopped saying, "You're welcome," and started substituting, "Yep," or, "No problem." At the risk of sounding older than I am, I think this is a step in the wrong direction--at least in a business or professional setting.
Why? Because ditching "you're welcome" for these other phrases changes the message. "You're welcome" acknowledges that you've done something worth someone else's thanks, while "no problem" suggests that it wasn't that big of a deal. Saying the former phrase conveys that you think it was a worthwhile favor. That's an impressive message to send.
Words No. 5 to 7: "Here's what's happening."
If you've ever worked in an environment in which people guarded information like a valuable commodity, you'll appreciate how much affinity you develop for the few people who try to keep everyone else accurately informed.
Of course you don't want to be a know-it-all or spread rumors. However, even if you don't know the full story, being willing to share the information you have that affects others' lives can make you instantly more likable.
Words No. 8 to 11: "How can I help?"
Nobody accomplishes anything amazing alone. Thus, with the exception of the sociopaths among us, we're all eventually grateful to those who help us achieve great things. I think we're especially grateful to those who proactively try to help.
This doesn't mean you have to go way out of your way to offer assistance, but it's often the case that you have access to something or the ability to do something that won't take much on your part, but that can really have a positive impact on someone else's success.
Words #12 to 15: "I'll find out."
This is one of my favorite phrases. It's related to "how can I help," but is even more proactive. It says that you're not only willing to offer assistance, but that you're willing to go out of your way to do so.
(By the way, this helpful phrase is also the diametric opposite of the most bureaucratic phrase known to humankind, uttered incessantly by some of the least likable people: "That's not my job.")
Words No. 16 to 19: "I believe in you."
Henry Ford recalled that when he was still an unknown, and was working on gasoline engines, a few short words of encouragement from an already famous Thomas Edison were a massive shot in the arm.
It's amazing how just a little bit of validation from other people can inspire people to work harder and achieve more. Four short words can have a huge, positive impact--both for the people you're encouraging, and for their feelings toward you .
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