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Comaford has a wealth of neuroscience tactics for helping leaders get inside their employees’ heads and truly establish rapport. Most of them are too complex to convey in a short article (Meta Programs are one of the most potent), so here she offers three “shortcut” phrases that help people feel safe enough to shift out of their Critter State:

1. “What if…”: When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious—not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering. This enables someone to brainstorm more easily with you.

2. “I need your help.”: We call this a dom-sub swap, because when the dominant person uses it, they are enrolling the subordinate person and asking them to rise up and swap roles. This is an especially effective phrase when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.

3. “Would it be helpful if…”: When someone is stuck in their Critter State and spinning or unable to move forward, offering up a solution will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.

You focus on problems rather than outcomes. First, a little background: Comaford teaches her clients there are three default roles that people lean toward—Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor. (These were first created by Dr. Stephen B. Karpman, and his article detailing these roles won the Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award in 1972.)1 These roles are interdependent (there must be a Persecutor for there to be a Victim for the Rescuer to save) and they play out every day in the workplace.

“Together these roles make up the Tension Triangle—and when we’re in it we’re problem-focused,” explains Comaford. “We see everything as a problem, which causes anxiety, which leads to a reaction, which leads to another problem. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. The solution is to switch your focus from problems to outcomes. Instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’ we ask ‘What do we want?’ and ‘How will we create it?’”

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