My friend Bill Hybels has taught me the importance of helping teams develop a strategy for talking about tough issues without damaging the people involved. The following are phrases that have evolved out of the Willow Creek leadership teams. You will find several you can use on your team. I also hope you will develop some key phrases for your own use. "Language That Preserves Community" When you hear an idea that sounds crazy at first, say "Help me understand." This keeps the focus on the idea without making a premature judgment about the validity of the idea. It also keeps us from making light of what another person really believes will be helpful. When someone is being dogmatic about an issue, say "Can I push back on that a little bit?" This phrase reminds everyone that all ideas are open to discussion, and that it isn't fair to the team to shut down the discussion. When presenting a big risk or a radical idea, say "Give me an umbrella of mercy here." In other words, "Don't laugh out loud." An idea deserves to be heard without immediately shooting it out of the sky. When there's a general uneasiness in the meeting, say "There's an elephant in the room." We've all been in those meetings where we sensed some tension and everyone pretended it wasn't there. This phrase gives permission to acknowledge that tension, which then opens the door to address and resolve it. When someone is whining, blaming, or rehashing the obvious, say "Can we get on the solution side of this problem?" I'm always amazed at people who think that seeing a problem that is obvious to everyone is some kind of gift. Once the problem has been identified, the only discussions worth pursuing are those that can lead to resolving the problem. When you need to speak hard truth, say "With your permission, I'd like to give you the last ten percent." This phrase is built on the premise that the first ninety percent of what we need to tell one another is easy. It is the last ten percent that is usually left unsaid because it is so hard to say. Asking for permission to share the hard part puts the responsibility for growth on the shoulders of the person who will receive the last ten percent. They then have the option of receiving it, or saying, "Now is not a good time for me emotionally. Can we do it another time?" Either way, everyone knows there is unfinished business, and healthy relationships are strengthened as we "speak the truth in love" to one another. After a difficult meeting, say "Are we alright with each other?" We've all been in situations where we got a little too passionate about an issue, or phrased responses in ways that were too strong, and inadvertently wounded people around us. This phrase reminds us that relationships are primary. To reach every one of our goals and lose our friendships in the process would be a hollow victory. Caring about the answer to this question insures we all reach the goal line together. This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter 'Leadership Wired' available at www.INJOY.com.