“Your team is very talented, but perhaps a little… obstreperous.”
That is what a new senior manager said to a group of us when she joined the sales team of a startup I helped build. Ninety percent of the people on the team had no clue she simply meant we were a little unruly and noisy.
Her observation and feedback were lost on us completely—even though it was an accurate word to describe us at the time.
On the flip side, many of us tend to use popular phrases that discount our smarts. Here are five expressions and words you should ditch pronto!
1. I Can’t
- I choose to
- I won’t
- I don’t
Saying “I can’t” makes you appear powerless. It’s also used multiple times per day to refer to things such as working out, eating a certain food, doing a formula in Excel, or attending an event. Instead of saying, “I can’t go to spin class today,” you can say, “I prefer/choose to take a rest day,” or, “I choose to skip tonight and go tomorrow.” See how that feels more empowering? Same goes for saying, “I choose to outsource my taxes/order in food that I love,” or, “I don’t eat meat.” People hear you differently when you use more assertive language.
I’m totally guilty of overusing the word amazing. Some people describe nearly everything as amazing—lunch, a view, a movie, a dog, an idea—anything at all. Used too often, amazing loses its power. Switching this word out gives you an opportunity to be creative and descriptive. Is your friend’s new apartment gorgeous? Unique? Stunning? Lovely? Fresh? Have fun with this!
This throwaway expression is kind of rude and, in a work setting, juvenile. I know someone who was fired from an internship when his “whatever” language (and attitude!) became all he was known for. His response to feedback was “whatever.” When he made a mistake, he shrugged his shoulders—a physical manifestation of the word. It did not endear anyone to him. In this world, the responsibility to care is our own.
You can think it, but you don’t have to say it. That’s maturity.
4. I Don’t Know
- I’m learning
- I’d like to know more about…
- I’m uncertain
- I’ll find out
There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something and admitting it. It’s humbling. It’s honest. Great leaders do it. But it can be framed in a more intelligent way when the situation calls for it.
When your boss asks for last quarter’s numbers, you can say, “I’ll find out!” When a colleague asks for your help with PowerPoint, you can say, “I’m learning this shortcut too; let’s take a look.” When you consider the side hustle you want to launch, you can think to yourself, “I’d like to know more about how coaching works.”
Do you hear me on this one?
- A simple pause
I had a three-minute conversation with a client once, and she used the word like 19 times. I am not exaggerating; I was counting. This sneaky word (along with ums and ahs) are the most unconsciously used words that pervade our speech. And filler words dilute the value of what we’re trying to communicate.
Whether you’re presenting, being interviewed, are on a date, are talking to someone new, or are sharing an idea that’s important to you, breathe and slow down. There’s no rush. What you have to say is valuable. You don’t have to fill every second with speech. Pauses make you appear considered and thoughtful. The most important thing is to pay attention so you can release your words!
Words are powerful. They’re our currency of communication. But far too often we unconsciously misuse them and either our intention is lost or we don’t allow the world to see us as competent as we really are.Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!