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The Three Most Powerful Things You Can Say – When you are in Conflict with Someone who has more Power than you Do

by Nancy Blake(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 268 - February 2021


‘As long as you are speaking from compassion, you can say anything’.

An anonymous psychotherapist


1. I agree with you that…


2. You probably won’t…..


3. You’ll really have to…


Male and Female Arguing Multi-coloured

Credit: Pixabay


1. I agree with you that…

  • We are really angry about this
  • This is important to both of us
  • We seem to be on opposite sides of the fence about this
  • We don’t see this the same way
  • We both want the best for ….

Your disagreement seems impossible to resolve. Find the common ground – something that is true for you both. Maybe it’s nothing more than that you’re both really angry about it! If that's the only common ground, stand on that.


If that’s true, then it’s also true that it’s important, that there is something about it that really matters to you both – something to be gained, or lost. It is probably true that you both have the best of intentions – assuming that you both do have the best of intentions can help you move forward.

Having established the common ground, it is easier to move on into a calm and respectful attempt to fully understand the other’s position.  Listen attentively, try to achieve such a complete understanding that you can explain it back to the other in a way that lets them know you really do understand.

One thing this is likely to do is to lead to reciprocation: an attempt on their part to understand your position.

Now you may find that you can begin to look for ways that both of you could get the outcome that you each want, or find it easier to compromise, or realise that there are misunderstandings that can be cleared up, or that it doesn’t matter as much as you thought.

But maybe this doesn’t happen. Maybe you that no matter how carefully you try to state what you understand their position to be, everything you say is greeted with ‘no, that’s not it’.

If the person you are arguing with can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer, you are in the territory of.


Male and Female Arguing

Credit: Pixabay


2. ‘You probably won’t…

  • Agree with this
  • Believe this
  • Want to do this
  • Care about this

It is surprising how many people seem locked into a need to disagree.  We assume that people will choose to agree with some things and disagree with others, but many of us feel trapped or threatened by going along with what another person wants or suggests.  If you find that almost everything you say is met with disagreement, even when it is something clearly true, important or necessary, it is quite a surprise to find out how easy this can be overcome.

If the person you are speaking with is almost compelled to disagree, then the phrase ‘you probably won’t’ becomes your most powerful tool in getting along with them.


If you preface your statement with ‘You probably won’t agree with this’, or ‘you probably won’t want to do this’, you have actually freed your friend to consider whether they might, after all, think your suggestion is a good idea.

They certainly don’t want you telling them what not to believe, do, or care about. You will be surprised at how quickly a closed conversation opens up again.

But there can be emergencies when you really need to stop someone with formal power from doing you harm.  This is the time to go to the next step: 3. "You'll really have to"

Man and Woman Resigned

Credit: Pixabay


3. You’ll really have to….

  • Do whatever legal action is being threatened. They are in the same position you are, you are both being forced to do something by an outside authority.
  • Do what they threaten to do.  Threats must be carried out, not doing so is a sign of weakness.  You know they have no choice.

The person exercising power over another person against their interests, whether in a personal or official setting has a strong psychological need to experience themselves as the one who has power, and you as the person within the sphere of that power.  They are exercising power, you are not.

‘You’ll really have to….(said with compassion, a sense of fellowship in their victimhood – ‘I understand that you really have to…’. ‘I do know why you really have to…’) because (the law says they must/they have to stick with their word or appear weak) puts them in the same category as you…subject to an external power.  That’s the last thing they want.  And now they can only demonstrate their power by not doing the thing you are telling them they must do.


The more serious the situation, the more courage it takes to adopt this strategy. But remember, people whose job it is to impose unwanted constraints on others, and people who are bullies in their personal lives are very accustomed to pleas and protests, and enjoying denying them can be part of their process.

Breaking completely from the ‘begging for mercy’ script powerfully disrupts this process. Compassion – towards them – is the key. Having their victim feeling sorry for them is an unbearable psychological position….they will have to prove they are in control. ‘Don’t you tell me what I have to do!’

Compassion is the most powerful weapon of all.

Further Reading

Each of these articles is about specific situations in which the reader needs to influence others more powerful than themselves.  Compassion, courtesy and kindness are essential for getting the outcome you want.  Each contains extended explanations about what to do and why it works.

This is specifically for the parents of children with ME/CFS, who can find themselves at odds with doctors, teachers and social workers, all of whom mean well and believe they are acting in the best interests of the child.  All too often, a conflict with these individuals, who are employed by agencies informed by guidelines and policies based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of ME/CFS can reach the point of court proceedings to take the child into the care of the social services, in order to place the child in a residential psychiatric facility. The stakes could not be higher.  The sooner the parents are able to defuse potential conflict, the better the chances of their keeping control of the situation.  Suggesting compassion, courtesy and kindness in the face of such threats sounds simply nonsensical.  But they are the most powerful weapons at your disposal.

Parents who can engage medical and legal support in a battle over the child’s welfare sometimes do win, but avoiding the battle altogether is better for everyone.

People with ME/CFS sometimes encounter supportive family, friends and doctors, who will believe what they say, and be willing to respond to their needs.  It is hard enough to learn that fighting against the illness, fighting to keep up your normal activities, your job, your family responsibilities, let alone your usual strenuous ‘leisure’ activities will simply make you worse.

Your doctor is told you need CBT and exercise, your family resent it if you stop doing the housework and the physically demanding caring activities they are used to, your friends think that getting out and doing things will cheer you up, neither your employer nor your school/college/university are likely to understand your needs for flexibility.

You feel as though this illness is robbing you of everything, even your identity.

You need to extend compassion, courtesy and kindness – first to yourself!  And then to those around you whose good will and help you need.  This article elaborates ways to manage those relationships, starting with the principles here.

The rise in family crises and domestic abuse during lockdown is a shocking addition to all we are suffering during the pandemic.  Again, we need ways to stay friends with those with whom we are forced to share, 24/7,  homes that often are too small, or too crowded to give us the space we need to feel completely ourselves, to feel able to bear the irritations and frustrations of even the best of relationships.

This was written before the pandemic, to help people, mainly women, in relationships which had become toxic to the point of physical danger.   The statistics then were already dire. Two women a week murdered by a partner or ex-partner, usually just before or just after leaving.   During lockdowns leaving will be much harder and resources to help harder to come by. Ways of defusing anger become essential. This article expands on these strategies.

Acknowledgement Citation

Cartoons © by Andrew Blake


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About Nancy Blake

Nancy Blake BA CQSW, has worked in mental health settings since 1971. She served as the Chair of the ANLP PCS (now the NLPtCA), as well as on a National Working Party developing postgraduate standards for Psychotherapy (NVQ Level 5), and contributed to the document which led to NLP being accepted as a therapeutic modality by the European Association for Psychotherapy.  She has presented workshops at UKCP Professional Conferences on an NLP approach to working with victims of abuse, and in psychoneuroimmunology.  Recovering from ME since 1986, she is the co-author, with Dr Leslie O Simpson, of the book Ramsay’s Disease (ME) about ME, as well as A Beginner's Guide to ME / CFS (ME/CFS Beginner's Guides). Both titles are available both in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Nancy was previously enrolled at Lancaster University in a PhD doctoral program; her thesis topic was Conflicting Paradigms of ME/CFS and how the Psychiatric Paradigm creates its Influence in contrast to the Medical Model. She may be contacted via Her books are available to purchase at


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