impact your work rephrase what you say

How to Impact Your Work by Rephrasing What You Say

8 Little Words Make a BIG Difference

impact your work rephrase what you say

“What can I do to get this started?” I will never forget how my life changed as an executive when Jasmine Freeman, Chief Executive Assistant, asked me that question. I was standing outside Jasmine’s office on my way out the front door. I was going to be gone for a few days to conduct an administrative training program. I was giving her a quick update on something I had to do when I got back in town.

You might be wondering why this a big deal and how this changed my life. Well, Jasmine had already been working as my executive assistant for several years. During the previous years when I was working on something or getting ready to start a new project, like 99% of assistants, Jasmine would normally ask:

• “Is there anything I can do for you?”
• “Is there anything I can help with?”

Well, it was easy for me (like many executives), to say “No. I’m set for now.”

executive assistant teamBut when Jasmine changed her question to “What can I do to get this started?” I changed my thinking. I switched to thinking, “Ok, what can Jasmine do to get this started? What can I delegate to her? Is there a phone call she can make for me? Or is there research she can do? What would be my next step and can Jasmine do that?” Because of that, I always came up with at least one action she could take to get the ball rolling.

Since that time, I have been teaching executive assistants, secretaries, and administrative assistants to change their question. The reason is because assistants need to take the initiative to get their executives to delegate more to them… Yes… I said more. Too many executives are doing tasks they should not be doing or are slowed down on a project or even preparing for a meeting because they are too busy dealing with the business at hand. A star-performing administrative or executive assistant takes the initiative to assist his or her executive as much as possible.

As we take a closer look at the administrative profession later in April in honor of Administrative Professionals Day (and Week), let’s dig deep into how you can take your career to the next level by focusing on the little things.

Joan Burge

How have you changed your results by simply changing how you say it? Share in the comments below.

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47 thoughts on “How to Impact Your Work by Rephrasing What You Say”

  1. I can see how busy they are on a daily basis, and leave work feeling as though I could have done more to assist in their day. Monday morning I will implement this into my work day, and see just how much the dynamics change. I’m excited about this change, and a bit nervous too.

  2. Gloria von Gesslein

    I’m guilty of this. I’m going to make it a practice to think about how to rephrase my questions to them because ultimately, I want to manage more things for them and take as much as I can off their desk.

  3. Hi, ladies! LOVE seeing you two! You are both, as Wendy Williams says, “friends in my head” I’m sure to many of us here!

    Wow! “What can I do to get this started?” Simple sentence, but packs a punch…opens a can of worms and Challenges Your Comfort Zone, if you’re not ready for the answer. But, if you’re a Revoluntionary Assistant, it will open doors and clearly break down barriers between you and your assistant.

    I’ve handwritten that question onto my color print out of what it means to be REVOLUTIONARY that is clipped to the left of my dual monitors…along with “What’s the worse than can happen, they can’t EAT you?!” and “What’s your risk tolerance?”(Thank you, Joan!)

      1. Not exactly sure what you mean by self questions, but, in order to pump myself up and not freeze when I question my capabilities or decisions, I ask myself “What’s the worse that can happen?!” or “What’s my risk tolerance?” The more I do it, the more I gain confidence…I realize that noone really realizes my uncertainty, but me. We can be our worse critics.

        I find myself trying more and more to now wait to be told to do something. When I see where I have the capacity to do, I do it first and ask questions…or apologize second! 🙂

        Today, while taking minutes for a 5- hour meeting, my new exec who tries to be self-sufficient was also taking notes on an item. I asked her if she would give me her notes so that I can input for her. Although she didn’t take the bait, we communicated on how we can work together to work efficiently together. She would complete that and I would work to get these minutes and action items out by the end of the week. #teamworkmakes the dream work. I think, the more I ask, the more she’ll allow me to support her. BUT, if i’ve digressed, I will definitely add the phrase “what can i do to get this started” to my vocabulary! Best, Rachael

  4. I love this! There’s a subtle variance in wording but the possible responses are ALL the difference. Using “What can I do to get this started?” versus “Is there anything I can help you with?” reminds me of asking my husband or daughter “How was your day” ,usually I received a cursory “good” reply. Now I ask what their rose (the best) and thorn (most difficult) were, which invites more conversation and explanation. I’ll definitely start using the get it started question with my boss. Thanks for sharing!

  5. When I see things that the manager is doing that I can do, I tell them “By the way I can run that report and generate the communication. How about I take that over started next week for you.” Many times they are grateful for the help. Sometimes, they can’t share if confidential and they let me know.
    I agree, ask the question in another way and the manager is grateful to have that extra help.

  6. Great way of rephrasing that question. I will try that in our next meeting. Thanks for all the support you’ve given over the years.

  7. Thanks for sharing this tip. I’m one of those who has always asked “what can I do to help?” but this feels so much more proactive, and is something a partner would ask rather than feeling like a subordinate. For those of us working hard to become more, that’s something that can be difficult to communicate (particularly with some older-school executives.)

    Jasmine, I really do wish there was some sort of “Jasmine Boot Camp” for those of us who aspire to your level of partnership with Joan, but who find ourselves unable to get away to the trainings in Nevada. Thanks for passing along all these tips. They really do make a difference!

  8. Chelsea Zimmerman

    Mind Blown. My executive and I have been discussing the “Owner Mentality” qualities. This is such a simple way to implement the initiative quality. I like it!

  9. Any suggestions on what to do if your workload is already full but there are still things my executive is doing that I could handle for him if I had the time.

  10. This is soooo important. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked to help someone and left with an impression that there was nothing I could do. My goal is make sure this is said at every opportunity.

  11. Such great advice. I’ve also been a bit blunt before and reminded my boss I could do certain tasks so they could focus on other tasks I could not take care of.

  12. I normally ask, “What can I do to help?” I think I’ll change it up and see how the rephrasing of the question changes my executives’ reactions. I have noticed that my executives tend to do many mundane routine tasks for themselves that I could easily take on. I keep the mindset that I am here to make their work lives easier. Moreover, neither of them have had an assistant in their past positions, so the process consists of repeated offers before they relinquish control of a single task.

  13. I am currently training an executive on how to effectively use an assistant. He never really thought he needed one and prided himself on being self-sufficient. Well, now he took on a bigger role and his team just doubled and he is finding himself short on time. So when he starts talking about what’s on his plate and he goes from strategic to task oriented I remind him that tasks are things to be delegated, especially to his assistant, so that he can focus on the strategic. Once I put it that way I think he started to get it.

  14. This reminds me in the book “Underneath it All,” the first chapter is about being a cognitive assistant. I started using that word more and more…”cognitive.” Thinking about what to say, how to say it, being aware, alert, always thinking…being cognitive all around.

  15. This webinar is exactly what I need. There are issues communicating with my Executive and maybe if I phrase things differently that can help with this. I can’t wait until April 26!

  16. Thank you for the tip, “What can I do to get this started?” I am going to try this. I seem to run into a road block when I ask for more responsibility at work. The director of the department I work in is not willing to let me assist her other than to scan or photocopy documents for her. Very frustrating.

  17. I love this suggestion,and will definitely use it; a related technique I often employ is to propose an action, or several possible actions, and ask if my executive would like me to start on any of them. Sometimes I even jump in and take action and advise my supervisor of what I’ve done.

    For example, if I notice an upcoming deadline, I might send this message: “I’ve blocked an hour of work time on Thursday for you to complete the employee reviews that are due on Friday.”

    If I am cc’d on an email that leaves a lot of open questions I might propose some followup, “Would you like me to see if I can find some time for you all to meet next week?”, rather than waiting for my executive to ask for the meeting; or I might drill down and work on finding some of those answers and again share that with my boss.

  18. I have always asked “Is there anything I can do”, rather than “What can I do”. Wow! I can’t believe how such a simple word change makes all the difference. I can see this being a valuable change to life in general, not just at work. THANK YOU for sharing. I’m implementing this TODAY!!

  19. I love the way this question is phrased. I’ve always asked “What can I do to help”, but now I will ask “What can I do to get this started?”. This is a great conversation starter between the Admin and the Executive.

  20. I have used that question in the past including “what can I do to take make your day a little easier” As simple as that sounds it also works.

    This has turned into a win-win question. I of course assist them, but I also over time have watched my role grow. It has be very rewarding professionally for me due to just how I worded my inquiry.

    Thank you Joan and Jasmine!

  21. I love this! Like you, Joan, my executive always says something similar to, “I’m good,” but starting today I will use that phrase. I’m excited at the prospect of taking on more responsibility with that small phrase. Thanks for all the great advice!

  22. Oooohhhh – I like this question! Putting this one in my mental toolbox.

    It reminds me of another spin on a common question. A facilitator leading a training session always says (and usually put up his hand at the same time): “Who has a question?” instead “Does anyone have a question?” It’s a small tweak but it always worked 🙂

  23. This is a great way to re-phrase the question. I will definitley be using this going forward. Thank you for sharing.

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