Having great communication skills is incredibly important in the workplace, and a key part of that is knowing how to speak confidently and professionally.
To do this you need to be aware of your unconscious word choices, as these can impact how you come across to others. Certain phrases and ways of saying things can make us appear less capable, self-assured, and ready for a challenge than we are. And it can negatively affect how we feel in ourselves too.
To ensure you’re going into your next role appearing and feeling confident, you need to first of all get some perspective on your own use of negative phrases and to consciously replace them with more positive language. The more self-assured you are, the more likely others are to trust in you, be persuaded by your ideas and follow you, giving your reputation and career a boost. While this is key to any professional’s success, it’s particularly important for those of us who are underrepresented in the workplace to take up space and let their voices be heard.
So, what words and phrases should you be avoiding and what are some alternatives?
Phrase to avoid: “Sorry”
For many, apologising constantly is a habit that’s hard to kick. Phrases such as “sorry, this project is running late” or “sorry, but would you mind doing this for me” are commonplace. It may feel like you are showing compassion to the other person but, in reality, excessive apologies indicate that you have done something wrong, even if you haven’t. So, before the words come out of your mouth, ask yourself if you really have something to say sorry for and only say it if that’s the case. If not, why not flip the script and say thank you instead?
Try: “Thank you for waiting.” or “I’ll need it by 12pm tomorrow. Thank you for your work on this.”
Phrase to avoid: “I think/ I feel”
Using qualifying phrases such as “I think” or “I feel” may seem like a way to soften your new idea but it can come across as unsure. Remember, the nature of an idea is that it’s always what you think. Be assertive and get straight to your point or your idea. Explain your reasons and thought process behind it to give it extra weight.
Try: “We should do it this way.” or “I can get my outline to you by 4pm.”
Phrase to avoid: “I can’t”
Saying you can’t do something, especially if it’s a new or challenging task, may be true to how you feel in the moment but it’s important not to act purely on gut reaction. The fact that you are being asked shows that others think you can do it, so take the time to think it through, get all the details, reassure yourself that help is out there when you need it and say yes. If the problem is whether or not you have the time to do it, clarify your priorities with those you work with and adjust your to-do-list accordingly.
Try: “Yes, sure. Give me all the details and I’ll give you a shout if there’s anything I don’t understand.”
Phrase to avoid: “I can try”
On the one hand “I can try” can be seen as a positive phrase, showing a ‘can-do’ attitude, but it can also make it seem as though you lack confidence in your abilities or that you’re not very keen on the idea. Don’t imply the possibility of failure before you’ve even started the project and simply say you will do it instead. However, check carefully that you’ve understood the requirements and considered the time and resources you need to get it done. Communicate clearly and avoid making any promises you can’t keep.
Try: “Of course. I can do that.” or “I’ll work it out and check in with you if I need help.”
Words are powerful and by making a few simple alterations to your language and choosing more affirmative, positive phrases, you’re well on your way to sounding and feeling more self-assured.