TBH, IRL, do you, OMG, like, believe what other people say?!
Abbreviations and shorthands in text messages and unfiltered speech with your best friends are fine metrics of communication. But in the workplace? It’s not every breath you take — but every word you iterate that shapes how others perceive you. Corporate culture expert and author Lior Arussy stresses the importance of choosing your language carefully — whether it’s via email, in person or in a late-night or a last-minute iMessage exchange over a client brief with your manager.
“Always ask yourself what emotions am I trying to evoke? And what action do I seek people to take? You will discover that some of your language choices are counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve,” he explains. “If you want to be understood and drive actions, choose your language carefully. Keep it simple and inviting. Welcome people to the conversation so they will in return accept the challenge of execution.”
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Though training your tongue will take some time — especially if you’ve never edited yourself before — you can get started with these overused words. According to career experts, they have no place in your office or inbox:
Career expert and founder of #BossinHeels Heather Monahan challenges professionals to look at these two sentences: “I was just thinking that it might be worth giving this a shot?” and “This is worth giving a shot.”
The latter speaks to more confidence and inspires you to trust the opinion of the speaker, right? Monahan says when you implement the word “just,” you lose your power — and oftentimes, your audience. “Just is used to soften a blow or to put a toe in the water when someone doesn’t feel fully committed and this takes your strength away from your request or statement,” she explains.
That’s why you shouldn’t “just” drop it, but stop using it ASAP.
When you were applying for college or prepping for your first job interviews, did your go-to mentor encourage you to slow down on your responses? It’s a common method that many utilize, since the faster you speed through speech, the more likely you are to add in filler words.
Executive coach and leadership coach Libby Gill says too often, professionals rush to demonstrate their brilliance that they end up stumbling over their language. When this happens, many subconsciously use filler words — including “like,” “umm,” “ah,” and “you know?” — to give their brain time to catch up to their lips.
Instead of racing to be the first to chime in, give yourself a “pause” so you can come prepared to share your point.
Unlike frivolous, meaningless words that add little value to your paragraphs, Arussy says many professionals overuse “strategy” as an umbrella term to explain, well, anything. While many start-up content consultancy companies, web designers, graphic arts specialists and SEO managers turn to “strategy” to describe their talents, it doesn’t always accurately describe their true talents.
This is why Arussy motivates professionals to be clear and specific about the services and skills they’re offering, instead of lumping everything under a single word.
“The main purpose of an organization is simple to engage and retain customers, so stop turning every initiative into a strategy. Contextualize what you are trying to achieve in the greater objective of the organization,” he says. “We need less strategies and more execution.”
‘Low hanging fruit’
In creative writing, idioms, buzzwords and relatable examples draw in readers and hold their attention. But in business, Gill says these go-to phrases can discount your intelligence. “These are those annoying workplace tics that are used so frequently they’ve become meaningless. Related to clichés, they are specific to the workplace, overused, and often found in Dilbert cartoons,” she says.
Some examples might include “let’s drill down,” “I’ll circle back,” “we need disruption,” or “we’re looking for a low-hanging fruit.” Unlike prepping for an interview where you aim to throw specific keywords or tidbits of the company or interviewer into a conversation to illustrate you did your research, business meetings are more productive with tangible discussions.
Instead of saying you’ll ‘circle back’ on a conversation, write down the questions that need to be answered and provide a detailed report of next steps. This shows you’re not only aware of how to finish a project, but you’re committed to doing it — and not merely using colorful language to push someone off.
Though women are guiltier of over-apologizing than men, most professionals overuse the “my bad” mentality according to Monahan. This brings negative attention to your performance and exercises a persona of shame you might not identify with. “In the workplace, there are many times that someone is running late or misses a deadline and the go-to for everyone is ‘I’m sorry.’ this gets thrown around so often that many people begin apologizing for things that aren’t their fault,” she explains.
A fix to practice is shifting from “I’m sorry” to “thank you” — which Monahan explains moves you past the shortcoming and focuses on the solution. “If you are late for a meeting and you arrive thanking everyone for their patience, you send a much more powerful statement. If you make a mistake with a client instead of saying I’m sorry again why not thank them for their understanding,” she says.
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