Whether you want to inspire an audience, pass a budget, win votes, or close the deal, effective leaders use language to influence others' thoughts and actions in order to achieve a certain result. That's one reason they're seen as leaders--their words compel people to follow. When you want to lead, a great place to start is by deliberately choosing to speak words that are empowering to others and avoiding phrases that are jeopardizing to your message and credibility. To optimize your effectiveness as a leader and persuasive communicator, consider eliminating these phrases in the workplace:
1. "I can't do that," or "That's impossible," or "That can't be done."
Even though you may feel this way on the inside, others perceive these negative phrases as pessimistic, unconstructive, even stubborn. Your boss, peers, and customers most likely want to hear what can be done. Instead say, "I'll be glad to check on that for you" or "Because of company policy, what I can do is..."
2. "You should have..." or "You could have..."
The words should, could, and ought imply blame, finger pointing and fault. There's no quicker way to upset a boss, colleague or customer than to suggest they're guilty of something (even if they are). Instead, take a collaborative approach. Say instead, "Please help me understand why..." or "Next time may we adopt an alternative approach..." Or "I understand your challenges--let's resolve this together..."
3. "That's not my job," or "I don't get paid enough for this," or "That's not my problem."
If you're asked to do something by your boss, co-worker or a customer, it's because it's important to them. Therefore, as a team player, goal #1 is to figure out how to help them get it accomplished. Even if it's not in your job description, by saying so displays a career-limiting bad attitude. For example, if your boss lays an unreasonable request on you, reply by saying, "I'll be glad to help you accomplish that. Given my current tasks of A...B...and C.... which one of these would you like to place on back-burner while I work on this new assignment?" This clearly communicates priority; reminds the boss of your current workload; and subtly implies realistic expectations.
4. "But we've always done it that way," or "That's not the way we do it here."
The most effective leaders value innovation, creative thinking and problem solving skills in their employees. In one fell swoop, this phrase reveals you are the opposite: stuck in the past, inflexible, and closed-minded. Instead say, "Wow, that's an interesting idea. How would that work?" Or, "That's a different approach. Let's discuss the pros and cons."
5. "I may be wrong, but..." or "This may be a dumb question, but..."
Eliminate any prefacing phrase that demeans or negates what you're about to say. Instead, get rid of the self-deprecating phrase, drop the "but," and make your comment with confidence.
6. "I'll try."
Imagine your boss says to you, "I need your proposal by 10am tomorrow for the customer meeting." Your reply is, "Okay. I'll try to get it finished." The word "try" implies the possibility it may not get finished. It presupposes possible failure. Instead say, "Absolutely--I'll have it to you by or before 10am tomorrow."
7. "I think..."
Which of these two statements do you find to be more effective?
"I think you might like this new solution we offer" vs. "I believe (or I'm confident) you're going to like this new solution we offer."
The difference in wording is fairly subtle, however the influence communicated to your customer can be profound. In the first sentence, "think" and "might" cause the speaker to sound doubtful about the message whereas the second sentence communicates belief and confidence.
8. "...don't you think?" Or, "...isn't it?" Or "...okay?"
To convey a confident commanding presence, make your statement or recommendation with certainty and avoid tacking on the unnecessary approval-seeking question. Instead of saying, "This would be a good investment, don't you think?" assert, "This solution will be a wise investment that provides long-term benefits."
9. "I don't have time for this right now" or "I don't have time to talk to you right now."
Other than being abrupt and rude, this phrase tells the person they're less important to you than something or someone else. Instead say, "I'd be glad to discuss this with you. I'm meeting a deadline at the moment. May I stop by your office (or phone you) this afternoon at 3pm?"
10. "He's a jerk," or "She's lazy," or "My job stinks," or "I hate this company."
Nothing tanks a career faster than name-calling. Not only does it reveal juvenile immaturity, it's language that may be libel and fire-able. If you have a genuine complaint about someone or something, communicate the issue with tact, consideration and neutrality.
Realize your words have power. By eliminating these phrases from your workplace vocabulary, you leave the sticks and stones behind. Instead, as Emerson advises, choose words that "persuade, convert and compel."