Keynote speaker and communication specialist Laura Katen, explains the importance of words and how to use them to empower your message.
I very often speak about the importance of words – and how quickly, without even realizing it, they can undermine us. There are specific ones that seem to slip into our speech when we’re uncomfortable or unsure. Other times, and with the best of intentions, we purposefully include these words to soften what we want to say, avoid coming across too assertively, or ensure that others know we’re not the authority on the subject.
I’ve categorized these undermining words and phrases into five categories: ‘Filler Words’ also referred to as nervous language and speech clutter, ‘Self-Sabotaging Language’ where I caution against being the driver of the bus that runs you over, ‘Weak Words’ that can diminish the confidence or substantiveness of your message, ‘Over-Apologizing,’ reflected by the knee-jerk reaction of saying “sorry” so frequently it become meaningless, and ‘Erasers,’ words that can quickly negate any positive or important sentiment that came before them.
I spend a lot of time highlighting when, and why, to avoid using these categories of words and phrases. In fact, in my latest book, The Communication Habit: Strategies That Set You Apart And Leave A Lasting Impression (©2020 McGraw Hill), I offer a myriad of alternatives to using these words and phrases in day-to-day conversation.
This post is different. In this post, let’s examine the specific instances where I would encourage you to use three particular phrases – that would otherwise be considered undermining due to the way in which they are currently and most commonly used.
Some words and phrases fall under the category of undermining words and phrases because of how they’re used. When words are used flippantly or are used too often out of their true contexts, the innate value of the word is reduced, which can detract from your message and often end up undermining you. When used in their true contexts, these same words and phrases can achieve the intended goal and create impact. Three such examples are the phrases – I think, I feel, I believe.
If used too often, when responding to a question or sharing a thought, the phrase “I think” can sound wishy-washy, non-committal, and unreliable. “I think we should…” In this context, it sounds as if your idea is not completely formulated or that you’re unsure. When used to describe the actual act of thinking, this phrase can turn the word ‘think’ into a deep, considerate, reflective process adding impact to your sentiment. “I need to think on what you’ve just said.” “As I think about it, I’m realizing…”
If you work in an environment where feelings are important, such as education, healthcare, or psychology or you want to express how you are literally feeling, it’s the perfect phrase. “I feel so proud that we met the client deadline…” “I feel the weight of your sadness.” It’s when we use it nonchalantly, and not to denote feelings or emotions, or default to this phrase when there are others that can be substituted to create greater impact, that it can undermine the strength of our message.
Conviction, commitment, dedication, and strength of character are incredibly important characteristics. The phrase “I believe” can be used to quickly reflect that conviction or deep sense of commitment. More often than not, it’s instead used as a filler word “I believe we should go left.” “I believe that’s how it works…” vs. “I believe that we can achieve top ranking…” “I believe in the core value of fairness for really making a difference in our business…”
These three phrases, and words in general, are only as valuable as the meaning you give them, which directly impacts the way in which your message is heard. Whether or not they carry the innate weight to empower your message, and add the intended impact, depends on how you are using them.
And can determine whether or not you – and what you say – appear
Confident. Competent. Credible.