Language is powerful. There are so many rules about which words are acceptable and which are not that are just built into our social contract, and which most people understand and respect. However, there are other words that undermine our authority, without us realising.
The words you use to express yourself show just who you are. The language you choose informs others about you, from your background to your education and your values. In the workplace, your word selection can tell others more about who you are than you intend, and some words can point to a weakness of character or conviction.
When you speak, you are informing others about your position on a subject. If you want others to respect you, there are some verbs that should not be overused. Learning how to use language to support your ambitions and show your strength of character is a skill. The following list of verbs are words that you need to consider replacing so that you can show your strength and conviction.
Hope is not a word that leaders should use to inspire confidence. While people think it sounds polite, it actually undercuts your position as it assumes that the speaker or the listener has little control over outcomes.
Weak: “I hope the figures next quarter will be better.”
Strong: “I am confident we will reach the targets next quarter.”
Think is a very abstract concept that does not invite others to share in your vision. While ‘I think’ is a very common expression, using it in professional settings, such as a project meeting, does not impart confidence.
Invite others to see the concept the same way that you do. It helps to use verbs and adjectives that tell people about your idea, giving them something to hold on to.
Weak: “I think the trees should be 6-foot-tall.”
Strong: “I envision trees that are 6-foot-tall.”
Unless you are playing trivia, you should never guess anything in the workplace. Being confident and knowledgeable is part of your job, and it is what you are paid to do. If you ever hear yourself say ‘I guess’, you might need to reconsider your position. You should be inspiring confidence, from entry-level roles to executive positions, if you ‘guess’ you are in the wrong job.
Weak: “I guess the structure will hold.”
Strong: “I do not have confidence in the integrity of the structure.”
When you use the word ‘need’ it projects a feeling of dependency on the part of the speaker. The expression is pleading and makes the speaker appear helpless in a professional setting. While you should ask for what you need, you should do it in a manner that asserts control and empowers all team members, rather than creating dependency and insecurity or power imbalances.
Weak: “I need the report by Friday.”
Strong: “The deadline for the report is Friday.”
The word ‘suppose’ is non-commital and shows your indifference. This is not a value that one should express in the workplace. This weak and even offensive word if used in a tone of dismissal proves that you are either rude or have little conviction. Saying ‘I suppose I’ll write that email’, is a way of showing people that you are indifferent, exasperated or disengaged.
Choosing words that express your mind and are respectful of others help you improve your standing in a company and gain the respect of your colleagues. Show passion and commitment to your work and you’ll inspire others to do the same.
Weak: “I suppose I can draw up the contract.”
Strong: “I am available to draw up that contract.”
“Want” and “need” are very similar: It suggests the speaker is lacking or in some way inadequate. The word itself is too vague and places the listener in a position of questioning. While wanting something is fine, it is better to be more direct in your desires. It shows real confidence if you can narrow your desires and communicate clearly without sounding dependent on others to fulfil your needs.
Weak: “I want a pay rise.”
Strong: “Considering my performance, I am confident that it’s time for me to receive a pay rise.”
Increasing your workplace vocabulary to include words and phrases that assert your convictions and inspire confidence is an important step towards building a career. While you might still use these words in casual conversation, such as “I think I’ll go to lunch” or “I hope it doesn’t rain”, these phrases are unlikely to affect your career prospects. However, as an effective leader, using words that reflect your true desires and communicate more effectively will show others that you do have the skills to be a successful leader who they want to follow.
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