Emotional Intelligence and the 3 Magic Words

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is all about apply intelligence to your emotions. A person with a high EQ is able to better navigate social situations, for example, than one with a lower EQ. Maintaining a high EQ becomes more difficult when it comes to dealing with difficult conversations. To maintain a high EQ, one needs to listen and not talk. Knowing the secret of the 3 Magic Words will help. (I can’t remember the source where I first read about this – if you can help, let me know!)

The 3 Magic Words are “help me understand.” These 3 words have the power to turn a difficult conversation into a much less difficult one. They might not seem so powerful now. But think about it, and try it out, and you’ll find their magic.

Some fundamentals first. Let’s make some obvious statements about how to deal with a difficult conversation:

* don’t accuse the other person
* don’t assume the other person made the mistake – maybe you have the facts wrong
* focus on the problem, not the person

If you begin the conversation by saying ‘help me understand’ you immediately begin the conversation by listening. You avoid the problem of blaming. And you make it clear that you generally want to understand what is going on. An example will help….

Let’s say you are dealing with a student who is disrupting class. Your immediate reaction is ‘How could you have done this for the 3rd time!”. The the student stares back in silence. As an alternative, let’s say you start the conversation instead with “Help me understand what’s going on back there – I hear more talking than I’d like.” The student might then reply that he was having trouble hearing and was asking another student for help. You avoided blaming. Or, the student might reply that he was sorry – your approach allowed him to hear what you were saying, and not that you were being harsh.

The use of the 3 Magic Words change the direction of the conversation. They prepare you to listen and help you to not assume. They also make it safer for the other party to admit failure. All good stuff. And this promotes better learning. They assure that you focus on improving the situation, and not in staking your claim to being right.

This has application to relationships, management, and of course, teaching. As teachers it is important to use the 3 Magic Words for example, when a student disappoints. If a student surprises you by not paying attention for example, start by showing the empathy that comes from them. See if that improves your listening, and the respect you get from your students.


About the author -


Funderstanding is a resource for teachers, parents, and students to stay up to date on education-related issues. The company focuses on innovative and progressive approaches to inspire learning in classrooms as well as homes.

7 Responses to Emotional Intelligence and the 3 Magic Words

  1. mauricio aldana says:

    Hello. First of all, I would like to thank all the staff at FUNDERSTANDING for putting together such an excellent web site. On the other hand, I think Emotional Intelligence is a key element for both learning and teaching. I am a teacher and a lifelong learner who has been able to incorporate different techniques (NLP, Maslow, CALL, Goleman and the like)in order to enhance the quality of my every doing. From experience, I can claim that the most important factor that influences the way you think is the emotional one. If we learn how to perceive the infosphere with new eyes (metaprogramming), a sea of opportunities suddenly shows up.

    • Leia Woods says:

      I would have loved for teachers to understand students more. When I was in school I had the feeling that most teachers couldn’t stand the sight of their students. I wasn’t a “trouble maker” aka a Bart Simpson type and I got ignored.

  2. jose villalobos says:

    totally agree.

    I do this in my class. I approach the situation in such a way that students feel safe when caught doing wrong.

    I give them a chance to
    1. realize what is wrong about their behavior and
    2. correct it.

  3. schoo says:

    Hi I like that! Can I also suggest a helpline where teachers who have challenges can seek help from? From Cambodia, a developing country where access to resources are v. limited

  4. Constance says:

    I can understand how an employee might apply this same technique in the business world as well. whould this same approach work though in an interaction/discussion/performance assessment if used by an employee to his boss in an annual evalution meeting? In otherwords if an employee asked his boss “will you help me to understand…?”

  5. SMonroe says:

    Choice words!!! I notice so much violence in the community aimed at our children. They really do need a loving ear coming their way. I plan to use this strategy more often to promote a safe environment.

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