This post may contain affiliate links and we will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on our link. Read the Disclosure Policy.
You’re one of the hardest workers at the office. You’re punctual, dedicated, and pretty freakin’ smart. So why haven’t you been recognized with a raise or a promotion?
The answer could lie in the subtleties of your sentences.
I’ll be direct — confidence is everything. And whether or not you truly believe in your swagger, faking it ‘til you make it will take you far. By speaking with uncertainty, you’re actually sabotaging yourself at work.
Asserting yourself confidently sounds easy enough, yet many weak statements and phrases have infiltrated our everyday language. Unfortunately, the way we speak has gotten a bad rap; in 1975, linguist Robin Lakoff identified differences between male and female patterns of speech. Lakoff described typical traits of women’s language as weak, and although follow-ups have shown that weak language isn’t a strictly female epidemic (but is used by women and men in lesser positions of power), these bad habits have trickled down to our generation.
How can you convey your confidence at the workplace? You don’t need to re-learn English in order to be a boss; you can start by eliminating these nine pervasive phrases from your vocabulary.
1. “I think…”
Hedging your statements with “I think…” makes you sound less confident in your opinions. You wouldn’t present your ideas to your boss or at a meeting if you weren’t sure of it, right?
Instead of starting a sentence with “I think” or “I feel,” use “I believe.” Alternatively, omit this part of your sentence entirely. Stating your idea as a fact will allow your colleagues and supervisors to believe in it — and you.
Many women find themselves readily saying “yes” to every single task. When you’re trying to shine at the office, it’s easy to accept anything your boss throws at you. However, there are some instances where you should be comfortable saying “no.” Aside from turning down obvious “women’s work” such as unloading the dishwasher and cleaning up the office, you shouldn’t feel pressured to assume responsibilities that are beyond your capabilities. Why would you take on three more projects when you know you have no extra time in the week? Not only could you stretch yourself too thin (which is the quickest way to a meltdown), but you could become the doormat of the office.
3. “Sorry, but…”
You might apologize when you speak too soon after a co-worker or when you bump into someone. Oftentimes, we apologise too quickly and too often; this is a problem that plagues most women after hours as well.
“Sorry” doesn’t need a substitute. Cut it out completely.
4. “This is probably a bad idea, but…”
I’m guilty of using this phrase, too. I might have a golden idea, but by preceding it with this self-deprecating phrase, others are more likely to see it as a bad idea. Many believe that saying “this is probably a bad idea” or “this is going to sound silly” is humbling, and they don’t want to appear too egotistical. Maybe you purposefully want to lower your audience’s expectations before presenting. Heck, you might just be shy when speaking in front of others. But if you aren’t proud of your ideas, why should others be? Take a leap of faith, throw your good ideas out there, and let your peers decide whether they’re good or not.
5. “I’ll try to do it.”
Your boss gives you a daunting assignment, and although you’ll face the challenge head-on, you reply “I’ll try to do it” or “I’ll try my best.”
Not only does that phrase convey a weak commitment, it undermines your abilities. Accept a task by assuring that you will give it your all, not just a try.
6. “Can I have a minute of your time?”
We often ask others to “chat for a sec” or “talk for a minute” when we actually want a substantial meeting. Asking for a minute won’t garner enough time for you to fully express your concerns; your co-worker will expect the talk to end in a few minutes, and you’ll feel pressured to present everything in an extremely limited window of time.
Assure yourself that your questions, concerns, and ideas are worth others’ time. You deserve more than “just a sec.” Next time you want to meet with someone, ask for a meeting, not a minute. If you’d like a more casual setting, offer to talk over coffee or lunch.
7. “This is kind of…”
“Kind of,” “kinda,” and “a little” all fall under the same tree. Saying something like “I kind of disagree” softens the blow of what you genuinely think. You don’t have to weaken your opinions in order to protect the feelings of others; couple your criticisms with constructive commentary next time.
8. “I’m not an expert, but…”
If you’re not an expert on what you do, then why were you hired in the first place? You are where you are because your employer believes in your abilities. This phrase is similar in function to giving a “bad idea” or “silly” disclaimer; although you’re trying to humble yourself, you’re just discrediting your own authority and knowledge. Own it!
9. “Does that make sense?”
I know many women who conclude their statements with this phrase. My mother — a brilliant, eloquent speaker — often asks “does that make sense?” after speaking at length. You might do the same when you want to ensure understanding, but did you know that the question does more harm than good?
Imagine this: you just delivered a killer presentation. Everything was on point and you know it, but you still ask others if it “made sense.” By doing so, you present yourself as less coherent. Are you explaining a complex concept? You should still find a new phrase. I recommend wrapping things up with “let me know if you have any questions.” Instead of framing yourself as unclear, you’re putting the misunderstanding on the listeners.
Before you present yourself with confidence, you need to be confident enough to talk. Period.