9 phrases to eliminate from your vocab at work

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It’s no secret that women and men communicate differently. As women continue to break glass ceilings in Corporate America and in Entrepreneurship, it’s important that we are equipped with the right communication tools as we assume our seats at the table. *cues Solange*  

On average, women use nearly 3 times as many words as men to verbally communicate. We also use more exclamation marks when writing, and are are often more expressive speakers.

Since words have the power to shape people’s perception, especially in business, it’s important that we are communicating clear and concise so that our messages are getting across. If you’re a female entrepreneur or a woman in leadership, these conversations are particularly important.

THE GOOD: Women’s brains are naturally equipped with emotional intelligence and specialized for masterful communication. The female mind is hardwired to pick up nuances in spoken language and non-verbals like facial expressions, tone voice and body language, which is why many women are so adept at forming interpersonal connections.

THE NOT SO GOOD: It also means that women in particular are more likely to behave in such a way to preserve relationships, which in spoken communication may sometimes be misconstrued to convey a lack of authority and low confidence.

However, don’t fret! It’s not about “talking like a man” or adapting an aggressive style. It’s about tapping into your inner courage and channeling it for more confident communication.

Here are nine phrases to eliminate from, so that you can sound like the confident, BOSS LADY you already are:

1. “Just”

“I just wanted to let you know…” or  “I just wanted to check-in” seems innocent. However, the word “just” minimizes the power of your statements and can make you seem defensive or even apologetic. Saying, “I just wanted to check in,” can be code for, “Sorry for taking up your time” or “Sorry if I’m bugging you.” It can often be a defense mechanism subconsciously to avoid the discomfort of feeling like we’re asking for too much. It sounds respectful, as though you’re deferring to someone smarter or better than you which may be true -- but it also positions you as a constant subordinate. I found that I used this word when I felt r guilty about imposing on someone’s time. And when I paid attention to how often I said “just,” I realized that it served no purpose.

How to BOSS UP: Start by rereading your emails and texts. Scan your written communications for excess “just”s that sneak in. Delete them. “I just wanted to let you know that I checked out the report and the findings…” and this: “I checked out the report and the findings…” ? In the first version, the speaker is apologetic. The second version above is not only more concise, but it’s unapologetic and straightforward. You have no need to apologize: you are doing your job and you have no need to justify your email or request to a colleague or potential business client or partner if you’re an entrepreneur.

2. “I was wondering…”

“I was wondering…” is the ugly step-sister to “just”. It’s has a way of unassumingly sneaking up to a question and taking the edge off of something direct – it’s a way of being indirect.

Consider the difference between these two questions: “I was wondering, is that going to be ready in time?” vs. “Is that going to be ready in time?” Instead of addressing it head-on, you are avoiding the very issue you are trying to address,which is not an attribute of a respected leader (read: BOSS)

How to BOSS UP: Don’t waste time. Get to the point. You have no need to dance around issues when you are trying to get your work done.

3. “Let me know”

Saying “let me know!” at the end of an email chain, meeting, or conversation seems like a good idea, but it is empty words. It doesn’t provide clear direction, outline next steps or identify action items. And worst of all, puts the responsibility decision-making on someone else's plate.

In an age of full inboxes and packed schedules, you’ll stand out by taking initiative. Focus on figuring out what you can do to provide value in the short-term, and then articulate exactly that with as many deadlines and details as possible.

How to BOSS UP: Start with the questions at hand: Does a meeting need to be scheduled? Should a call be made? Can a draft be created? Is there a deadline? Instead of telling your boss, “Let me know if I can help with the budget proposal,” say, “I’ll call Angela today to follow up on the proposal draft so we can meet the budget deadline.”

4. “THIS IS PROBABLY A BAD IDEA, BUT..."

Women often preface their ideas with qualifiers such as, “This is probably a bad idea, but…” or “I’m not sure what you think, but…” This speech habit typically comes up because we want to avoid sounding pushy or arrogant, or we fear being wrong.The problem is, using qualifiers can negate the credibility of your statement. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, why should your audience? Even if you’re wrong, that's the nature of being human, and it won’t cost you your job or reputation. Pointing out why you may be wrong before saying anything is a waste of your words.

How to BOSS up: If you you’re prone to using qualifiers, before speaking up in brainstorms or on calls, take a deep breathe and think about what you are about to say. This brief pause will you time to think and rephrase your statement without the disclaimer.  

5. “That’s all I have...any Questions?”

If you’re in marketing, sales or the Public Relations industry like me, it’s likely you give a lot of presentations.One  of my biggest flaws, is giving a seamless presentation and ending it very poorly. I don’t know why at the end of every presentation, I have to give this grand gesture of “I’m done” as if the room isn’t aware, but it just feels necessary. But it’s not. A communications coach gave me great feedback: he suggested that I practice pausing, and waiting, after making a recommendation or delivering a presentation. “Practice being quiet?!” I thought at the time. But he was right.

More often than not, after I’m done speaking in a work situation, I hear crickets and panic—Are people confused? Do they hate it? Then, I rush to fill the space with either more talk and empty questions like, “ That’s all we have…” or “Does that make sense?” This isn’t helpful. While it’s important to invite feedback and check for clarity, if someone has an opinion or feels confused about the topic, he or she will probably speak up.

6. “I can’t”

When you say “I can’t,” you give up all ownership and control over your actions. “Can’t” is passive, whereas saying you “won’t” do something is active. It shows that you create your own boundaries. Saying “I can’t” conveys that you don’t have the skill to do something, but chances are what you’re really trying to say that you don’t want to do it. Throwing around “I can’t” promotes lack of will in testing your limits. Your words shape your reality, so saying “I can’t” limits you and allows fear to win.

How to BOSS UP: Replacing “I can’t” with “I won’t.” is a subtle yet powerful way to demonstrate agency, independence, and control – especially in work environments where you may feel ordered around. While it might feel intimidating at first, it gives you a chance to assert your boundaries for a better work-life balance.

7. “Thanks! :)"

There is not a need to use exclamation marks or emojis to express your enthusiasm about every. little. thing. The infusion of extra emotional cues into language touches on a core core insecurity that we may be concerned about being perceived as kind, worthy, or likeable. It's preemptive "peace keeping": we’re trying to ensure our message has been positively received (a false guarantee that’s entirely out of our control). 

How to BOSS UPInstead of general “that’s sooooo amazing!” statements, try to make more specific observations (“The new business pitch sounds like it'll be a valuable solution to our client's problem”) that shows your interest at a more professional level. For written communication such as emails, study the language senior people at your company use and tailor your vocab to match theirs.

8. “How do I . . .”?

This one is my absolute pet peeve. Let me introduce you to my good friend. Her name is GOOGLE, last name IT.  It’s 2017 people. The world wide web allows us to have access to so much information, literally at our fingertips. I always, always Google my question before bringing it to a colleague. Not only does this save time, but it makes you look smarter because you took the time to gather as much information as possible on your own. This tip seems super obvious, and yet, I see it every day.

How to BOSS UP: This one is simple....GOOGLE IT

9. Change your mindset.

Number nine isn't a phrase, but moreso a piece of advice. This list isn’t about eliminating certain phrases from your vocabulary. It’s about eliminating the mindset that you are any less important than anyone else, or that your opinion is less valid than others’. Ladies, I have news for you:

  • The B is for Boss - Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise

  • Your opinion is just as valid as those around you.

  • You have every right to speak up in that meeting.

  • You don’t need to apologize for taking up the time of others you do business with.

Women, you have power. Now use it, to redefine the “B” Word.

What words or phrases do you use at work to sound confident? Is there anything you’ve stopped saying, and why?

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