Magic Words

In two recent experiences where long-time vendors disappointed me, I found the magic words needed to get the result I want while retaining a long-term relationship. The words are “You’re better than that.”


As I stated earlier, I’ve had good, long-standing relationships with both vendors. Both dropped the ball on some aspect of service. I was blunt in my criticism of both, but at the end of each tirade I said the magic words “You’re better than that.”

Why magic words?

In part, because they’d earned it. Both had served me well over the years and they deserved to hear that I was aware of how well they’d performed previously.

I’d use these magic words even if it was a relationship with little, if any, history. My rationale is that I’d based my decision to work with them on values, behaviors and characteristics I felt were aligned with mine.

That means that what I just experienced isn’t typical of the way they do business. Giving them the benefit of the doubt is not only fair, it encourages them to perform better in the future. We typically don’t want to disappoint people who believe in us. By expressing my belief that they are better than this one instance, I dramatically reduce the likelihood of a similar experience in the future.

“You’re better than that” implies that you know how good they are, how committed they are to doing a great job and this is an aberration, not their normal behavior. These magic words not only show my respect for them, it earns me their respect as well. It strengths the bond between us and lays the foundation for an enjoyable, mutually-beneficial relationship moving forward.

Final consideration

When faced with a situation in which you’re disappointed in someone’s performance, don’t forget to ask yourself “What’s my contribution to the problem?”

In these two instances, I realized that I could have been more clear in my communication. I acknowledged that fact as I was roiling about their performance. This too earns their respect and enables them to be more objective in the analysis of their performance.

I’m happy to report that both relationships continue in a very pleasant and mutually-beneficial way.

For you

As you find yourself ready to launch into a tirade over unmet expectations:

  • Ask “What’s my contribution to the problem?” Admitting yours does not exonerate them of theirs.
  • State firmly and unequivocally your displeasure with their performance.
  • Use the magic words “You’re better than that.”

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get the result you desire while retaining a valued relationship.

For our kids

When the kids in your life launch into a tirade, share this three-step approach to getting what they want…without risking a relationship. You’ll make their lives easier for decades to come.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your wisdom as a comment.

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6 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Hi Dale, Your reference to looking at how we contributed to a problem really resonates with me. If we believe that most people (there are a few exceptions) wake up every morning with the idea that they want to do well, it seems like we often contribute to their failures.

    As a sales manager, I found through experience, that when one of our sales people or a client didn’t meet my expectations, it was frequently because the communications on my part was unclear.

    Finding fault is such a trigger to defensiveness. Instead of resolution, the problem gets blown out of proportion and the relationships often gets damaged.

    • Dale Furtwengler

      Well said, Bill. I too have found that acknowledging my contribution to the problem leads to a solution while assigning blame litters the landscape with debris.

    • dfurtwengler

      Richard, I know that you agree that everyone deserves a second chance. This is a way to provide one with encouragement. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

  2. Nancy Thompson

    Dale – using these words “you’re better than that” are an easy way to show support for them and to allow them to open up with something that may be going on personally which has interfered with their normal high standards. Also, the under-performance may be something that a manager wasn’t aware of and can then take action to find out where the problem is – at the same time using these words with their normally high performing worker to get to the bottom of things. – I like this a lot and will keep it in mind for the future.

    Have a terrific week!
    Nancy T

    • dfurtwengler

      Nancy, great examples of how it can be used in a managerial role. Thanks for sharing.

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