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The Three Words That Will Change Your Life

The Three Words That Will Change Your Life

If you search Google for ways to change your life, there are approximately 12 million different answers. Some results will put you on a 10-step program, others will tell you about a “miracle” product that will solve all your problems. But what if there was a simpler way to change your life? What if there were three words that could have a big impact on your relationships, your career, your family and more?

“Please.” “Sorry.” “Thanks.”

Three words that, according to Mark Batterson, have the power to turn your life around. Batterson is Washington D.C.-based pastor and the author of Please, Sorry, Thanks. In his book, Batterson argues that incorporating these simply words can repair damaged and broken relationships, bring healing to communities and build bridges where there have only been walls. we sat down with Batterson to figure out what makes these words so powerful, and how we can use them to make a difference in the world around us.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

What is it about “please,” “sorry” and “thanks” that make those words powerful?

Mark Batterson: I think many of us remember our parents teaching us about the three magic words: please, sorry, thanks. And so, even from childhood, we recognize how significant these words are. But I never took a class in please, sorry or thanks.

You know, this is a pretty all-encompassing statement, but I really believe that the greatest predictor of success in life, in love and in leadership is our proficiency at please, sorry and thanks. Nothing opens doors like please. Nothing mends fences like sorry. Nothing builds bridges like thanks. So, a PhD is great. It might get you in the door, and I’m all for education, but PST—please, sorry, thanks—is going to be what gets you the promotion. It’s going to help you win friends and influence people. And at the end of the day, it’s an expression of emotional intelligence that I think is so critical in our relationships. I would dare say, even in this cultural moment, we can afford a rising tide of please, sorry, and thanks.

How can we teach ourselves to use “PST” more in our conversations and daily lives?

I would say that there are two mindsets: common enemy and common humanity. With a common enemy mindset, anybody who doesn’t look like us, think like us, or vote like us, we tend to demonize them. The problem with that is you’re canceling people right and left. Whereas a common humanity mindset is the image of God in me greets the image of God in you. It sees other people as invaluable and irreplaceable and treats people with dignity.

I’ve got a spiritual father who’s 81 years old who said there are two kinds of people in the world: One enters the room, internally announcing, “Here I am.” It’s kind of all about them. Me, myself, and I. Ego barely fits through the door, you know? But there’s a second kind of person who walks into a room internally announcing, “There you are.” It’s all about everybody else. It’s about adding value to other people, checking your ego at the door.

A lot of what I’m advocating for is a “there you are” kind of approach to life and leadership, and it plays out with these three words. No one wants to be told what to do. A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still. The word “please” levels the playing field. The word “please” puts a ball in someone else’s court and allows them to own their own answer and sign to it.

How can we check ourselves to make sure we’re not just going through the motions of saying these words without meaning them?

Yeah, these words are only as effective as they are authentic. And so, I want my “sorry” to carry some weight, to be meaningful. Otherwise, it’s an empty apology and you actually break down trust because you didn’t really mean it. It’s kind of the “I’m sorry, not sorry,” which happens a lot. So I think what I try to do is, you have to personalize your please, you have to thumbprint your thanks, you have to signature your sorry, and make those unique expressions of who you are.

I could give a lot of examples, like there’s someone I know who, when they write a thank-you note, they don’t just write a thank-you note, they send a pack of baseball cards — which I think is hilarious because I haven’t traded baseball cards since I was a little kid. But it’s a good example of remembering that because it has a little extra touch to it.

I think finding ways to make it meaningful, finding ways to say sorry that are meaningful, the only limit is our creativity. And so I actually think creativity is key when it comes to please, sorry and thanks.

Another great example is Bob Goff. Bob is a friend and I’ll never forget visiting his lodge in Canada and the way that he welcomed us. He didn’t just stand on the dock and say, “Welcome.” He somehow got a marching band fully uniformed on a flatbed boat towing water skiers playing music as a way of saying, “Welcome.” Like, I mean, now that’s over the top. I don’t know that you have to go to that length. But then when he says goodbye, he runs down the dock and jumps into the water fully clothed, which I think is hilarious. And so what I’m talking about is just putting your fingerprint on the way that you live your life, on the way that you say please, sorry, and thanks, and I might add to that the way that you say hello and goodbye.

Why is this message something our culture needs to hear right now?

I think, for all the obvious reasons, like on social media, you have a lot of baiting and trolling and shaming. You’ve got political polarization, and of course, I pastor a church in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill. So, we feel the tension across the aisle. And then you throw in just some of the racial tension that we’ve experienced in recent years as a country. There are a lot of things pulling us apart.

I think we’ve got to find ways to find common ground and common grace. Some of it just goes back to how we treat other people. That goes back to how we see other people. So, I have two rules of life that frame the way that I try to approach people who I’m meeting for the first time. One, everyone is my superior in some way, in that I learn from them. And two, everyone’s fighting a battle I know nothing about, in that I empathize with them. So, I want to approach people understanding that when you meet someone for the first time, it’s like opening a book to page 117 and starting to read. Well, if you haven’t read page five or page 22 or 72, it’s hard to put page 117 in context, right? So, I think we have to show a measure of grace and get to know each other’s stories. The thing that impresses me about Jesus is he was the perfect combination of grace and truth. It says he was full of grace and full of truth. Now, I think grace means I’ll forgive you no matter what, and I think truth means I’ll be honest with you no matter what.

In my experience, a lot of people are one or the other, so here’s my take: Grace without truth is weak sauce. Truth without grace is hot sauce. And grace plus truth is the secret sauce. When we combine compassion and conviction, now we’ve found a third way. Now, we’ve found the Jesus way.

It doesn’t compromise, but it is moved by compassion, and now I’m starting to treat people the way that Jesus did.


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