In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Business Talk: Words That Make You Sound Weak

In the lexicon of leadership, there are some words you should not say.

They suggest weakness or failure, a tentative approach when directness is required. Leaders should use assertive language that conveys "confidence and authority," says one writer.

It's all good to delete some expressions for business purposes, but remember what George Carlin said about forbidden words: "You never know what's going to be on the list because it's always somebody else's list."

Six Dirty Words

In an article for FastCompany, Judith Humphrey wisely writes that language bespeaks the man -- or something like that. She says your words express "your personal brand," but weak words can make you sound weak.

"They can undercut your ability to inspire others and suggest to listeners -- from top executives and colleagues to your direct reports -- that you aren't really sure of yourself," she says.

Humphrey has a list of six words you shouldn't use. They are: "think," "need," "want," "guess," "hope," and "suppose."

(If you thought we were going to list Carlin's seven dirty words, sorry. That was just a comedian's list.)

Use Action Words

The problem with some words, of course, is they don't say what we want to convey. Humphrey says her forbidden verbs are weak because they don't convey leadership.

"Cut these six verbs from your lexicon, and you'll start to notice your power and confidence climb," she writes.

Humphrey advises using "powerful" words and phrases. Instead of saying, "I need this report as soon as possible," say, "Please have this report to me by next Friday."

Known for being verbose, lawyers can take the cue and stop using pompous and outdated words. Like Carlin said, "Sometimes, it's ok. But not all the time."

Related Resources: