Want to make difficult conversations easier? Use this phrase inspired by Bob Dylan, says bestselling author Susan Cain

If you’re a fan of popular music, you might be familiar with this line: “If we had spoken strictly for my sake, we could both have died by then.”

It is from singer-songwriter Joan Baez’s 1975 song “Diamonds and Rust,” which is widely believed to have been inspired by Baez’ relationship with Bob Dylan. And according to bestselling author Susan Cain, it holds the key to making difficult conversations a whole lot easier.

The author appeared on Simon Sinek’s “A Little Bit of Optimism” podcast last month to discuss her latest book, “Bittersweet: How Grief and Longing Make Us Include,” which focuses on the power of a bitter and sad state of mind.

Sure, the song’s lyrics are described as bittersweet, but the more rhetorically useful aspect is more about the first four words of this line, Kane said: “Speak neatly for me.”

Sinek backed her up: “Can you imagine if every opinion someone expressed, political or otherwise, began with ‘Speak precisely for me?'” How disarming, but also how open-minded.

This simple phrase does several key things at once, Cain and Sinek reckon—all of which can help when navigating difficult conversations.

For starters, it mirrors the oft-recommended “I” statements rather than the “you” that relationship counselors talk about. In general, “I” statements—such as “I feel” and “I think”—are seen as eliciting more positive feedback than accusatory “you” statements, although there is some debate about the effectiveness of the “one size fits all” concept.

“If you say ‘I feel this way,’ you will be heard way better than ‘You always do that,’” Cain said. “‘Speak strictly for me’ is another version… of ‘I’.”

Because of that, the phrase can put the listener at ease. “Their shoulders relax as soon as they hear that phrase,” Cain said. “Nothing exactly is being asked of me at the moment. All I have to do is listen.”

Similarly, using Speak Accurately for Me provides the person you’re speaking to with an extensive instruction manual on how you want them to respond, Sinek said.

“When we have a difficult conversation with someone where we need them to have space, there is an expectation that they have the skill set of how to hold space,” he said. “When I say ‘speak strictly for me,’ I’m giving them instructions and clues on how to hold the space.”

Finally, the phrase can help in conversations in which both people are at least partially “right.” By stating your side of the argument, and saying, “Speak strictly for me,” it can help absorb some of that gray area.

“what [the phrase] Is he…allowing talk of bitterness and grief and hardness, and allowing those conversations to be received as intended,” Sink said, not in the form of accusations or judgments.

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