Jobs and the Future of Work

These are the words you should avoid in the workplace

A primary school student writes on a whiteboard at a school in Cuernavaca April 4, 2011. Mexico is suffering from an out-of-date education system, dominated by political and trade union interests that hinder the ambitions of a country that could grow at higher rates. Picture taken April 4, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso (MEXICO - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION)

Powerful people know that when it comes to language, less is more. Image: REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Avery Blank
Contributor, Forbes
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Words hold power. Some of the most powerful words are the words you use every day. These words can easily and unknowingly diminish your message and intent. Powerful people know what words to stay away from and maintain their influence and impact. Powerful people know that when it comes to language, less is more.

Here is your opportunity to increase your power by decreasing your usage of these seven types of words:

1. “Just” (protector words)

The word “just” diminishes the content that follows this word. It is a “protector” word, a word that softens what you want to achieve. When you say, “I’m just following-up on my below e-mail…,” you are downplaying the importance of your e-mail and why you are reaching out. You are softening your request for a response.

If you are taking the time and energy to follow-up on an unanswered e-mail, it is important. Do not make it look unimportant when it is important to you. This can come across as passive aggressive, which can create resentment and lessen your authority.

2. “Very,” “Absolutely” and “Totally” (drama words)

Words such as “very,” “absolutely” or “totally” do not add value to the noun you want to describe or highlight. You do not need to say, “I’m very excited.” Saying “I’m excited” does the trick. Superfluous adverbs and adjectives can add unnecessary drama. When you appreciate the power of words, you use less of them to communicate the same thing. When you use fewer words, each word becomes more powerful and can be better appreciated by others.

3. “I think…” or “Arguably” (protector words)

Each and every thought you put out there is your opinion. You do not need to preface your ideas with “I think.” Similar to the word “just,” “I think” and “arguably” are protector words. It broadcasts to the world that you may be wrong but that is okay because it is only what you think. It is a way to protect yourself from attack, should someone hold a different opinion.

Words you may be using to try and protect yourself are undermining your power. You are entitled to your opinion. Don’t undermine your authority to have one. Sharing your opinion without hesitation, even if others disagree, can help to garner respect.

4. “I’ll try” and “Don’t worry about it.” (ability words)

Saying that you will try to do something suggests that you are unsure of your abilities. If you say you will do something, people know that you will try. Saying, “I’ll try” can make people feel nervous. The last thing you want your manager to think is that you lack confidence in yourself or even your ability to try.

When you express too much confidence and say “Don’t worry about it,” you leave people in the dark about what you are doing and belittle them as you may think that they cannot do something. Leaders empower others, not strip them of their power.

5. “Sorry” (apology words)

The more you apologize, the less powerful your apology becomes. Use “sorry” sparingly. Use it only for instances directly caused by you and not for instances out of your control. For example, you are late to a meeting because of a car accident that happened two blocks from work. You may share why you are late, but you do not need to apologize for it.

6. “Like,” “Whatever,” “Etcetera” and “…and so on and so forth” (filler words)

Keep the “likes” and similar phrases to a minimum. These are common filler words. People use them when they are trying to think of what they want to say next. It dilutes the potency of the words you use. Instead, pause for a moment to collect your thoughts.

7. “Actually” and “Obviously” (superior words)

Words such as “actually” and “obviously” can rub people the wrong way. These words suggest that the other person does not understand the issue or circumstance (and that you are right) or understands something (when they may not). Making assumptions about other people’s levels of understanding shows your lack of understanding and can annoy or frustrate others and cause people to disrespect you.

Ordinary words have the power to throw your message off course and undermine what you want to accomplish. To increase your power, think about the words you use. If used properly, language is your opportunity to empower yourself and your career.

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Jobs and the Future of WorkLeadershipEducation and Skills
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