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There are several words and phrases that we have all used that inadvertently diminish our authority and make us sound less confident. If we say these regularly, they dilute our message – and with it people’s ability to take us seriously. Keep an eye out for these fearful phrases and practice eliminating or rephrasing them to sound more confident.
It has been said before, but it is so widespread that it has to be repeated: We have to stop qualifying everything we say by “just”. When we introduce our questions and ideas with this little four-letter word (“I’m just following”, “Just wanted to add”), the undertone is the undertone of the apology; it is a subtle preventive excuse for potentially bothering someone. It minimizes our power and sounds like we are asking permission to speak – something that confident speakers rarely do.
Instead of trying to be less of a nuisance by relying on “just,” try more direct, “I wanted to know how you feel about X” or “Check in to see if you could review this report.” “.
“Sorry for bothering you …)”
Hear. There are legitimate times we should feel sorry for bothering someone (e.g., when they have eyeballs deep under four covers and enjoy amazing REM sleep). But “sorry” is common in situations where no apology is required. “Sorry, if that has been said before”, “Sorry for ditching” or even an apology to the staff: “Sorry, can you tell me how much that is?”
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Although it seems a polite and warm thing to say when we apologize unnecessarily, so Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic, we seem smaller and more fearful. Jovanovic notes, “Excuses have become our usual way of communicating.” She encourages us to replace all these additional excuses with “I want to add”, “Why don’t we try” or the ever-cherished “thank you”. (Try next time you’re late or if you don’t answer someone right away. Instead of saying “Sorry,” say “Thanks for waiting.”)
Why do we feel the need to prefix so many of our questions with the obvious “I was wondering …”? (Of course we were, otherwise we wouldn’t be asking.) This is another way of mitigating a request or lukewarm asking for consent rather than possessing it. “I was wondering if we should call Bob?” “I was wondering if we could make pizza instead of sushi?” Replace the question with “How about us …?” Or “What do you think of it X? ”
“How, uh / uh, you know”
Do you remember in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Zuzu said, “Look, Dad, the teacher says, every time a bell rings, does an angel get its wings?” Well, every time we use filler words, our message sounds like hot garbage (and loses credibility).
Here’s a fun experiment. During your next conversation with a friend, record yourself or ask your work partner to count how often you use filler words like “like,” “um,” and “you know” in your next Zoom meeting. (Bonus points if they also pursue “somehow” and “sorta”.) Chances are, it’s more than you think. We are often immune to our overuse of these common filler words, but we need to be more aware. They make us sound hesitant, nervous, even less intelligent.
Other hacks to end the habit: tap your leg every time you hear you are using one, speak more slowly and consciously, or force yourself to pause and breathe when you feel the urge to dropping unnecessary filler material. What could you say instead? Do you have to say anything at all?
“I’m not an expert, but …”
This self-deprecating disclaimer (and its cousin “I just spit here”) is often followed by opinions or ideas that we are not sure about, but we will share them anyway. Which isn’t bad as part of a casual meeting or an informal brainstorming session. But in more professional settings, leading by denying knowledge or expertise can negatively affect how people hear the following. Sure, we may not sound threatening, but we also sound slightly dismissed. For more respect, try “I would suggest we consider X” or “I think Y is the best direction”.
“Does this make sense?”
This one and his sister sentence, “Do You Know What I’m Saying?” Are tell-tale signs that we know we have lost the plot. When we think we are diffuse or don’t have the words to get our point across clearly, there are a few solid alternatives to seeking external confirmation that we are not too confusing. To repeat immediately, pause, say, “Let me rephrase this,” and start again. If you have that deer-in-the-headlight feeling, try “I have a lot to say about this” or “This is a new idea for me,” followed by “I need some more time to formulate my thoughts. ”
“Unless I missed / Unless I can’t remember …”
There is not a single soul among us who has not overlooked or forgotten important information that is important to the conversation we are having, at work or in any other way. It is normal and we have no problem using these phrases sparingly. But when we habitually say “unless I missed” or “unless memory fails,” it can make us appear distracted or chronically incapable of remembering things. (Which we all are to some extent. But it is a habit to say it out loud to certain listeners.) If you need confirmation, try “Is that right?” Or “Can someone confirm this?”
“That might be a stupid question …”
It’s hard to say which is more disturbing: the feeling of not knowing something that we think we should know, or the panic of hiding that uncertainty and still getting the answer we need. This is when we say things like, “This is probably a stupid question, but …” If you are interested in being a more confident speaker or an effective leader, this question must be dropped. We should never belittle ourselves and our inquiries, at least not in front of others. Instead, say what you think the answer might be, followed by “Am I right?”