Some people come across as confident and competent by just uttering a few words while others speak for a couple of minutes and convey insecurity. Why? Because language holds power, and the way you use language reveals a lot about you.
“It is essential to use proper tone, semantics, and clarity when communicating. Throughout my career, I have noticed that professionals do not take the time to communicate their ideas properly in spoken and written ways of communication,” says linguist, blogger, author and publicist Petrona Joseph.
Your words can even make the difference between getting an opportunity or missing out on one.
“When I open up an email from someone desiring to work with me, I can tell in two sentences if it is someone who will work diligently or not.”
Wondering what you can do to avoid inadvertently self-sabotaging when you open your mouth? Aim to understand conversation dynamics and be mindful of the way you communicate, says Joseph:
“Because language carries power, and in order to be seen as a person of good standing, professionals should place more emphasis on understanding the fundamentals of power in conversation. Using the wrong language can be seen as an indicator of lack of preparedness, hence lack of confidence.”
So if you want to appear confident, improving your language skills is a must — not a luxury. “The more a person shows a lack of language skill, the less confident they appear,” says Joseph.
People who use the five phrases below tend to project very low self-confidence, so you can start by banning these communication habits from your vocabulary.
“Yeah, like, you know what I mean…”
Using filler words can be such a tough habit to kick, yet it’s so important to get rid of it. For example, you may think saying “like” a lot is harmless as it’s such a common thing to do. But in a professional setting, it not only signals a potential lack of self-confidence to others, but it also can erode trust and hurt your credibility.
“The use of filler words makes a professional seem untrustworthy, so stay away from ‘um,’ ‘ah’ and ‘you know what I mean,’ as they impede on credibility and confidence,” says Joseph.
“Sorry, I can’t.”
According to Joseph, you should avoid saying the words “I can’t” — unless you want to seem insecure. While confident people do not always have all the answers and solutions, they believe in their resourcefulness and abilities.
They don’t declare things as not doable or possible because they know that there is always a more constructive answer, whether it be suggesting an alternative or admitting they don’t have the answer at the very moment but will be looking into it.
Phrases that include the constant repetition of a word
“My first time on television, I repeatedly used the word ‘absolutely,’ and oh my goodness, was it ever annoying and showed a lack of confidence,” says Joseph.
“I even had one advertiser who refused to pay until I redid the segment because it did not feel that I spoke eloquently. This brings me back to filler words. Try avoiding them, as they show a lack of confidence.”
Hey, if even communication pros fall into the trap of repeating a certain word that doesn’t add to the meaning of a conversation, it can happen to you too. But if you practice continuous awareness of what you say and how you say it, you’ll be able to catch yourself in the moment and break the habit.
Phrases where you over-volunteer info
Less is often more when it comes to communicating with confidence, says Joseph: “The most common issue in the workplace is dealing with information, and streamlining conversations, especially in email.”
“Overtalking or overexplaining can be seen as insecurity.” Ask yourself whether you can deliver the same message in a more concise way. And focus on quality over quantity. Also, do not over-volunteer information.
“By giving too much information, or over-speaking, you can seem like a difficult personality or one who may have difficulty respecting boundaries. Every conversation has boundaries, and it is important to respect them.”
There is a fine line between being personable and entering TMI territory, so tread carefully if you want to avoid appearing insecure.
Some workplaces are more casual than others. However, speaking in slang always comes with the risk of hurting the image of confidence you want to project. A rule of thumb to veer on the side of caution? Articulate and be specific with your words. And stay away from overly familiar language, recommends Joseph:
“If you want to appear confident in a speaking setting, articulate, and use proper terms related to the conversation. In the case of written language, do not use slang, or vernacular idioms,” she says.