The cheat sheet

Cheat sheets, the compliment of being blunt, a few other phrases, and 7 other things worth your time.

I moved the furniture in my home office this weekend. And I took the time to throw out the “cheat sheet” Post-It notes that I’d scattered around the spot where I normally put my laptop.

Wait, you mean you’ve never had a bunch of “cheat sheet” Post-Its to remind you to use certain phrases during video calls? Oh, my friend. Pull up a chair.

If you can look on the bright side of pandemics (sorry, Monty Python), the fact that we’re doing so much via video now means you can write notes reminding yourself to weave certain magic phrases into your conversations.

These are the kinds of things that evoke positive reactions from other people, and that you might not ordinarily, automatically say. It’s as if you had a TelePrompTer for every conversation.

Now, I wrote some of these down, tongue-in-cheek a while back. It was kind of a joke, I admit—but then, lo and behold, I caught myself actually using them. But now I seem to use them automatically, so I got rid of the Post-Its. (They were a bit cluttered, tbh.)

Anyway, I know I’m not the only person using this little hack. You can make your own list, but here are 10 preternaturally positive Post-It note phrases that might help you get started—and why they work.

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “LMBB” for “Let me be blunt.”)

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 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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: Actually, it’s not shorthand, because the phrase is short. “TELL ME MORE.”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “WDYTK?”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “HELP?”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “PLZ/THX”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “UR WELCOME!”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “SHHHHH.”)

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. 

(Post-It Note shorthand: “U DO ____ VW”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “HOW WE FIXXXX?”)

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.

(Post-It Note shorthand: “LM FIND OUT”)


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7 other things worth your time

  • New study: Grandparents who take help care of their young grandchildren (but who aren’t the primary caregivers or substitute parents) live an average of five years longer than their peers who don’t. (University of Basel, Switzerland)

  • Guess what they found in Nova Scotia: a 50-year-old, 3,500-pound ancient Great White Shark that’s being called the Queen of the Ocean. (NBC News)

  • South Korea’s foreign minister is apologizing after her husband broke quarantine and flew to the United States in order to buy a new yacht. (The Telegraph)

  • Report: The IRS is investigating Wayne LaPierre, longtime CEO of the National Rifle Association for possible criminal tax fraud. (WSJ, $)

  • Apple is suing a Canadian company it partnered with in 2014 to recycle old iPhones, claiming it decided to resell 100,000 of them instead. (iPhoneinCanada)

  • I’ve had this date marked for a couple of weeks, but tomorrow is October 7, which means it marks the fourth anniversary of the (“grab them by the…”) Access Hollywood tape. Just think about how many more ups and downs there were in the 2016 election after that event. My point is: This ain’t over, not by a long shot.(Wikipedia)

  • Speaking of which… the thing everyone else on the planet is leading with right now… President Trump was released from Walter Reed Monday evening, and flew Marine One back to the White House. Supporters say he looked like a strong leader who showed the world he’s beaten the virus, and that it’s really nothing to be afraid of. Others say no; this was was clearly a sick man, pumped with drugs and gasping for breath, who irresponsibly took off his mask for a photo op. The nice thing about being such a divided country right now? No matter which you believe right now, you have lots of company.

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Photo credit: Kind of interesting, this originated as part of a photo in the New York Times a decade ago, of the master guide that showed all the projects people at Delta Air Lines and Northwest had to finish in order to merge their airlines in 2008. I hope that’s fair use! Also, I’ve talked about some of these phrases before on Inc.com.

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