Communication is one of the most important skills to have in your professional tool belt. Tone, the ability to be concise, and good listening skills are all important, but ultimately, words matter most. That’s why it’s important to recognize how your word choice can help you, and when it’s holding you back.
The words you use convey your experience, expertise, and confidence, all of which can greatly influence how you are treated and perceived at work.
Here are four words that may be holding you back by conveying a lack of confidence (whether you realize it or not). If you regularly use any of these words in your written or verbal communication, we offer suggestions of what to say instead.
Hint: Sometimes, the best option is to drop the word completely!
How it can hold you back: First, a clarification: We’re not talking about the word “just” as in “I just got back from vacation.” We’re talking about “I just wanted to say” or “I just think we should.” Using “just” to temper whatever bit of information comes next communicates a lack of confidence in the statement or in your grasp of the subject matter.
What to say instead: Most of the time, you don’t have to say anything in its place. In other words, remove “just,” and the sentence can probably stand on its own.
Before: “Just keep in mind that we try to schedule volunteers for four shifts or fewer per month to avoid burnout.”
After: “Keep in mind that we try to schedule volunteers for four shifts or fewer per month to avoid burnout.”
Sometimes removing “just” will highlight other unnecessary words or phrases you can drop, such as “I wanted to say” or “I wanted to add.” You don’t have to say that you wanted to say something. You can come out and say it!
Before: “I just wanted to add that Jane said we should wait until she’s back from vacation to choose a printer for the annual report.”
After: “Jane said we should wait until she’s back from vacation to choose a printer for the annual report.”
How it can hold you back: Similar to “just,” the phrase “I think” can suggest you’re not confident in the statement that follows. “I think” doesn’t communicate the experience and expertise behind your statement; it implies that your statement is merely a thought, not an evidence-based contribution to the discussion.
What to say instead: You don’t need to banish “I think” from your vocabulary; sometimes it’s appropriate, such as when you are asked for your thoughts on a topic. In other instances, use the same trick suggested above: Remove “I think” from the sentence and see if it works.
Before: “I think our website could use a redesign. The current design is hard to navigate and has limited accessibility features.”
After: “Our website could use a redesign. The current design is hard to navigate and has limited features.”
If removing “I think” doesn’t work, try to replace it with something more confident, such as “I recommend” or “My recommendation is.”