Avoid Phrases That Make You Seem Weak

I need to tell you that I’m sorry that this book is um, like so long. It’s literally 52 chapters. I just totally wanted to make a really big impact. Is that okay with you?

This book is 52 chapters. It includes relevant tips and tricks to empower you in your career. Please enjoy.

Which of those two sentences sounds better? One of them also took a lot less time to write because I didn’t have to write with emotion and just stated the facts.

Knowing how to avoid phrases that make you seem weak will in turn make you look buttoned up and confident. If you sound like you know what you are doing, people will treat you like you know what you are doing.

  • “I’m sorry” – Never apologize unless you physically hurt someone. Even if you made a mistake, even a big one, you shouldn’t start with I’m sorry. You will mess up throughout your career. I see you rolling your eyes. I won’t mess up. I will repeat myself If you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t learning and growing. It’s going to happen. Unless you were screwing around and caused problems, you shouldn’t have to get down on your hands and knees and grovel for forgiveness every time something doesn’t work out as planned.
  • “I think” – Do you? Really? You think? You use your brain? YES, everyone thinks.
  • “Like” or “Um” – Filler words are the worst. Once you catch yourself doing this one it will drive you crazy until you correct it. It’s easy to get stuck or pause and use a filler word but this can make you sound less intelligent. It’s okay to pause and think when you are talking and if you are giving a presentation it’s okay to take a little break to breathe. It gives you and the audience time to absorb the information and re-engage.
  • “Does that make sense?” – I sure hope it makes sense – you said it. Instead of saying this flip it and say something along the lines of “Let me know if you have any questions”. This ensures that it doesn’t sound like you don’t know what you are talking about but want to make sure that the crowd feels like they can reach out if they are unclear. You’re not unclear – but they might be and that’s okay.
  • “I guess”, “I hope”, “I suppose”, “I believe”, “I feel” – these words are emotional, they aren’t concrete, and they remove all the confidence I had in you going into our discussion. If I have a delivery that needs to be there by Friday, you better not only be hoping it gets delivered. You better know it’s going to be delivered. If I need to meet my quarterly sales goal you best be doing more than just feeling like we are going to make numbers. I always like to think of it like this – if my boss came to me and told me that she believes I will have a job next month – it wouldn’t make me feel confident.
  • “I need” or “I want” – If you are going to use these terms be very clear on the definition of need and want. You need water. You need oxygen. You need food. It drives me crazy when people use these terms because there are a lot of other more professional ways to communicate. Instead of saying “I need the report by July 10th” say “based on the timeline, you will be providing the report on July 10th”. You are not dictating your demands but then you are regurgitating what the team aligned on and making sure everyone stays on track. Business isn’t about your wants and needs. It’s about numbers, dates, and teamwork.
  • “Can you provide a status on the project?” – Of course, they can but that’s vague. If you can flip this statement and make it a bit more specific it will ensure you get the feedback on the specific items, you want to know about. Something along the lines of “Can you advise if all items were ordered and shipped out on time to ensure we meet the expected delivery dates” sounds a lot more specific and shows that you know what the project even is. When people ask for a status most of the time the person responding ends up taking a lot of extra time to outline all the “status” details instead of quickly responding with just the information that is needed.
  • “Just” – Girls just wanna have fun. They don’t just feel like checking in on the status of a project. I’m not sure why this word gets added so often into sentences because almost every time you can remove it without changing the context of your communication (other than making your communication more succinct and direct). I promise you that you are JUSTified in cutting it out.
  • “Really” – Tell me what you want what you really really want. I’ll tell you what I want what I really really want. I want you to stop saying really because it’s really driving me crazy. If you’re not a member of the Spice Girls, then there isn’t a reason to include this word. It doesn’t add anything. It’s really not an important word (would you look at that spell check is telling me to remove it in every instance and “consider using concise language”. Looks like I was right after all.
  • “Can I” – Yes, you can. I am officially giving you permission to do what needs to be done to get the job done. Now stop asking if you have permission to ask questions. This one irks me to no end. Can I just ask how the project is going? Is it in your job description to ask? It makes you sound like you aren’t confident in your role and responsibilities. Additionally, it sounds a little like you’re coming from the farm. If you must ask a question, I recommend kicking it off with a polite “May I”.
  • “Totally”- I’m going to show my age on this one but anytime I hear someone say “totally” there are two things that come to mind. The first is Wayne’s World. The next is Mean Girls. Neither of these is appropriate for the office.
  • “Actually” – The minute that this comes out of your mouth it makes it sound like you are rethinking what you are saying. “Actually, I had a great time.” Instead of not having a great time? If you don’t need it just lose it. “I had a great time”.
  • “Very” – This is a filler word, which is fine, but I like to remove it or replace it with something more substantial to make my communication sound more professional. Instead of saying “The conference was very good.” You can say something like “I had a wonderful time at the conference. The people were a delight and I learned a lot”.
  • “Is that okay with you?”, “Will that work for you?” – I don’t always hate when people say this, but it must be used in the right context. This is another one that makes you sound like you are unsure of yourself. Instead of putting it in their court flip it and say something like “Please let me know if you have any questions”. It’s a simple little change that makes it sound like you are in control.
  • “Literally” – If you are going to use the word literally, then you need to open a dictionary and figure out what it means. I will help you out. Per Webster “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” Want to see me die a little bit inside? Use the phrase “I was literally just thinking the same thing”.
  • My absolute favorite “this might be stupid but…” and…you’re done. No one can hear what you say after that statement. If it’s stupid don’t even say it…but I bet, it’s not stupid and that it’s a relevant and logical idea.

Also, take some time to look up commonly used words to ensure you are properly using the English language. Suposable and irregardless have NO place in the business world.

Last couple of tips for this section. Avoid cursing and make sure that you understand how to speak in a politically correct manner. There are a lot of phrases and slanguage (aka slang language) that people say that are really offensive and can get you in trouble.

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