This morning I received an email that made me feel like a million dollars. And I only read the first line. It went like this:

“Good morning Tarzan. Swipe file received. Thank you. I like the way you have…

I was instantly in a good mood, and pinned the email to the top of my inbox so I could give it extra special attention once I had my tea brewed and less-important emails cleared.

The email came from my friend Grant, who’s a wizard at what we call “motivational copywriting” – a method of communication based on years of dedicated research and testing. Grant has applied psychology to increasing patient adherence to medication by as much as 164% (compared to traditional patient education written materials). 

Hearing the phrase “I like the way you have …” was the grown-up equivalent of a gold star from someone I have a deep respect for.

It filled me with a desire to open my ears (and heart) wide and read more.

Conversely, I overheard this at a recent networking mixer:

“I noticed you have some local photography on your site. Would you be interested in commissioning some photos that would put those to shame?”

I winced a little for my friend whose website was the target. She worked hard to build an awesome site. I’ve seen her sweat it out in front of her SquareSpace editor, pouring her heart and soul into every last headline and image.

Value and respect can create magic when communicated genuinely. On the other hand, shame is a big de-motivator. {Tweet it.}

You've probably already heard about the program our brains are running from the days when we were sleeping in caves and being chased by bears—the fight-or-flight response, which is triggered by the amygdala, 2 glands on either side of the brain. When we feel threatened, instinct tells us to haul ass in the other direction.

Copy can trigger that same reaction, especially if it implies there's something the reader doesn't know or didn't do.

Despite the fact that I know better (in theory), de-motivating language periodically creeps into my blog posts and email marketing. Fortunately I have help—my brilliant friend and mentor Grant.

He helps me identify any phrases that might be subtly devaluing my audience or causing them to click away. This level of scrutiny can be hard to take, and fortunately he’s an expert in delivery.

The reason I resisted the urge to swiftly deliver a sermon about shame to the photographer is because of something I learned from my friend.

People don’t like to be “taught” stuff. At least, not in that way.

A “teaching” voice implies a deficit in the reader, which, instinctively, will make her rebel against the teacher.

Unless I’ve explicitly asked to be taught about a certain subject – by subscribing to a webinar or buying an e-course, for example – there’s a very real risk my brain will rebel against the kind soul who just wants to share her wisdom with me.

Despite a deep commitment to learning, my pesky limbic system is always trying to sabotage me. It’s a “lizard brain” thing.

(Fortunately, these reflexes also keep me alive, so we’ve learned to coexist quite comfortably.)

You’ve probably heard about “power words” that are used in sales  (“you”, “discover”, “easy”, “proven”, “save” – you can grab Hubspot’s handy list of them right there), but even those need to be applied with care in order to trigger a positive reaction.

Some of these “power words” actually communicate a deficit in the reader. You'll see them in my trigger phrase swipe file, sometimes used as a positive trigger phrase, and other times cited as a demotivating phrase).

Valuing Phrases are huge behaviour motivators.

Many of these valuing phrases can be compared to more commonly used phrases that come out without forethought, simply because we've seen them on a list, or heard others use them.

These casual turns of phrase often slip out all too easily, simply because they roll so naturally off of my fingertips. I’ve often used the Common Use Phrase when I meant to employ the Valuing Phrase.

I’ve compiled a list of some particularly effective Valuing Phrases and their Common Use equivalents. You can go grab a copy by clicking the big yellow bar.)

Here are 3 of my favourites for you to consider. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.


COMMON USE PHRASE #1: “In case you didn’t notice, …”


By implying you didn’t notice something, I’ve presumed a deficit in you. Like I know something you don’t. The invisible subtext here is that you may not be very perceptive.

And that’s a big ol’ bear you might just run from.

VALUING PHRASE: “You probably already know that …”


It presumes your reader is smart and capable – maybe even more so than you. You can use this line to affirm your reader’s competence, and then throw in the concept you want to share.

Which is more appealing to you?

“In case you didn't notice, 500 calories of salad is not the same as 500 calories of ice cream.”


“You probably already know that 500 calories of salad is much different than 500 calories of ice cream. ”

COMMON USE PHRASE #2: “I can give you a way to [blank]”


Imagine I said “I can give you a way to lose weight faster and look like a spicy hot babe.”

Not only have I implied you’re just an okay-looking babe who could stand to lose a few pounds, I’ve also implied that I know something you don’t. And that suggests a deficit in you.

Instead I might say, “Thanks for allowing me the chance to share some of the weight loss techniques I’ve learned from working with 100's of clients over the last 10 years.”

That avoids implying the reader is overweight, and also avoids insulting her by showing the source of your knowledge. Her lack of knowledge is no longer offensive since she probably hasn’t worked with 100’s of clients for many years.

VALUING PHRASE: “Thanks for allowing me to [blank]…”


It demonstrates how much you genuinely value your clients/readers/customers. The human desire to feel valued is insatiable, especially in a world where we’re constantly told to buy the latest bronzer, wear spanx and while we’re at it lose 10 lbs.

As often as possible, I try to remind my readers that I know how busy they are, and how many other blogs they could be following at this very moment.

(Seriously, thank-you. I'm a business owner too. I don't take this lightly.)

COMMON USE PHRASE #3 “I can empower you to …”


I splashed around the word “empowerment” quite liberally on a site I recently wrote. The client was a power company—a rare exception to this rule.

The word “empowerment” is one of the 3 words I’ve banned from my marketing. It’s been an especially hard one to swallow for me, since I work with a lot of coaches and speakers, and we snack on empowerment for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But just for a second, let's consider the difference between these two phrases. How might you feel if I said this?

“How will your life be different when your business hits the 6-figure mark and you kiss your day job buh-bye?”


“I can empower you to finally quit your day job and build a 6-figure business.”

What feelings, thoughts and emotions come up for you? Anything different between the 2 phrases?

VALUING PHRASE: “How will your life be different when…?”


This presumes competence in your reader. That they will get what they’re after, with or without your help. It also opens a loop in the brain that your reader is pre-programmed to close.

I drafted about 30 headlines for this blog post, and came up with some real deficit-centric duds along the way.

For example, I vetoed “x Ultra-Common Phrases That Cause Visitors To Click Away (And What To Say Instead)” because it suggested you might be writing content your readers don’t like, and that kind of thing might have made me look like a bear.

Often a second set of eyes will catch these trigger phrases, once the focus shifts from our “power” to influence, to valuing our readers.

I'd really value your thoughts on choosing these valuing phrases over common-use phrases.