It happens to each of us at one time or another. We find ourselves in a situation – either business or social – where it becomes important to express an opinion or idea. We want to appear confident and in control, but inside we are quaking with doubt. Mustering up the courage to speak, we inadvertently shoot ourselves in the foot – not because our opinion is not valid, but because the WORDS we use are weak, robbing our communication of impact.
Compare these phrases:
“I just feel like we should include everyone.”
“The entire team needs to be included.”
“Our team would be much more effective if we met once a week, don’t you think?”
“In order to be effective, we need to meet once a week.”
Each pair of sentences has the same meaning, but the second version carries more authority and confidence. The words feel, like, and just indicate that the speaker is unsure of their position, and the tag line, don’t you think, indicates that the speaker requires reassurance or validation.
Speakers will often use softer words if they fear that their ideas won’t be well received, without realizing that they are undermining their own credibility. Women are especially prone to qualifying speech, a leftover from the social traditions of previous generations. As demonstrated in the examples above, it is possible to speak assertively without being aggressive or rude.
Here are some other common words/phrases that communicate a lack of confidence:
- Overuse of the word SORRY. Prefacing or following up a sentence with sorry nullifies the entire thought. There is no need to apologize for having an opinion.
- Saying maybe, kind of or I guess. These phrases soften an idea or opinion, instantly undermining the integrity of the suggestion.
- Adding a tag line to the end of an idea. The most common tags are I don’t know, something like that, and know what I mean? Each of those phrases implies that the speaker doesn’t trust the strength of their influence upon the listener.
- When giving constructive criticism, ending the comment with, “Is that okay?”
- Introducing an idea by saying, “This might sound dumb”. The audience’s perception is negatively shaped by the speaker’s suggestion.
Much of our weak speech is the result of habit and can be changed fairly rapidly by turning our attention to it. Take the opportunity to replace weak phrases like I feel or I think with I’m confident and I’m convinced. These stronger options will positively influence the perception of the overall message.
Eliminating the minimizing language provides the opportunity to present oneself with confidence and greater authority. Similarly, using compelling words to convey our thoughts does not carry the impression of arrogance, but of conviction. Speaking in a confident manner encourages others to respect and consider your opinions, while including minimizing language discourages them from taking you seriously. While it’s not always easy to catch and correct our weak speech in the moment, you can begin by reviewing your emails or inter-office messages before sending. Substitute stronger words for the weak ones (or eliminate the unnecessary words altogether – most sentences read perfectly well without just or really.) Over time you will establish the new habit of expressing yourself with confidence and you will no longer be the victim of weak language.