Whether making an important presentation to potential clients or trying to motivate a room full of entry-level employees, your words carry weight at work. This is especially true in an age of instant tweets, texts and social media streams.
Darlene Price, an executive coach in Atlanta and founder of Well Said, a communications training firm, tells The Fiscal Times, “Whether you want to pass a budget, win votes, or seal the deal, effective leaders use language to influence others in order to achieve a certain result. That’s one reason they’re seen as leaders – their words compel people to follow.”
Price, whose latest book is Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, suggests that just as words empower others and lead to results-based leadership, so, too, words can “jeopardize your message and credibility” in work-based situations.
Here’s a handy reference guide to what not to say in today’s competitive job environment:
1. Avoid, ‘I’ll try.’
These words imply the possibility of failure. “In 1962, John F. Kennedy did not say, ‘We’ll try to go to the moon,’” argues Price. “He said, ‘We will go to the moon … because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept.’”
Price says that when the goal is to communicate strength and inspire confidence in others, “replace the word ‘try’ with the word and intention of ‘will.’ The comments, ‘I understand the urgency, John. I’ll have it on your desk by 10 a.m.,’ are much more powerful than, ‘I’ll try to have it done.’”
2. Avoid playing the blame game. Do not say, ‘You should have…’
No one likes to be on the raw end of finger pointing. “Ideally, today’s workplace fosters equality, collaboration and teamwork. Instead of making someone feel guilty – even if they are – take a more productive and non-judgmental approach” to managing others, she says.
She suggests trying these words: “Next time, please bring this to my attention immediately.” Or, “In the future, I recommend…”
3. Avoid, ‘That’s not my job.’
As a team player, no matter what your field, one of your jobs is to care about the team’s success. So if someone asks you to do something, “it’s because it’s important to that person,” says Price.
“That doesn’t mean you have to say yes, but it does mean you need to be considerate and tactful if you say no.” Price advises that if you’re hit with “another work-intensive project by your boss, reply by saying, ‘I’ll be glad to help. Given my current tasks, which of these should I put aside while I work on the new assignment?’ This conveys priority, reminds the boss of your current work load, and shares realistic expectations.”
4. Avoid, ‘I think …’
Why risk coming across as unsure of your message? “Consider the difference between these two sentences: ‘I think our company might be a good partner for you,’ versus, ‘I’m confident our company will be a good partner for you,’” says Price. “The conviction communicated in the second sentence is profound. It’s assertive and certain. To convey a command of content and passion for your subject, say, ‘I believe,’” says Price, not, ‘I think.’”
5. Avoid, ‘This may be a dumb question, but …’
There’s no reason on God’s green earth to diminish your point before you’ve even made it. “Your spoken words reveal the value you place on yourself and your message. Why lessen the significance of what you contribute? Instead, assert your recommendation: ‘To reduce travel costs and increase time efficiency, I recommend we conduct the quarterly meeting online.’”
6. Avoid, ‘I may be wrong,’ or ‘Okay?’
“Imagine an investment banker saying, ‘This is a good way to invest your money, though I may be wrong.’” Hedge – and you could lose the deal. Instead, take charge verbally, advises Price. “Say, ‘This strategy is a wise investment with long-term benefits. With your approval, I’ll move forward by 5 p.m. today.’”