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8 Common Words in Conversations That Make People Sound Less Confident

8 Common Words in Conversations That Make People Sound Less Confident

One way confidence is judged is by an individual’s behavior, especially verbal behavior. That’s according to Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Professor Tannen has been researching the influence of linguistic style on conversations and human relationships since 1974. She has also studied how ways of speaking learned in childhood affect judgments of competence and confidence in the workplace for several years.

How we speak, she says, determines who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done. Tannen gives the following example: one publishing company executive said, “I’m hiring a new manager. I’m going to put him in charge of my marketing division,” as if he owned the corporation. In stark contrast, women were saying “we” when referring to work they alone had done. One woman explained that it would sound too self-promoting to claim credit in an obvious way by saying, “I did this.” Yet she expected—sometimes vainly—that others would know it was her work and would give her the credit.

You might think that your way of speaking is natural, but the words you use and how you use them can determine how your confidence is judged. While there is no such thing as right or wrong words—results vary depending on the context—some common words we use in conversation really just put us at a disadvantage because they are weak and make us seem less confident.

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1. “Um” and “Ah”

Many people throw in an “um” whenever they are temporarily lost for words. But there is a reason you won’t hear these crutch words, as they are known in public speaking, in news bulletins and TV shows. “Um”s and “Ah”s make people seem not only less confident, but also dumb. If you are guilty of this habit, stop it. Instead, take a brief pause when you are temporarily lost for words.

2. “Like” and “You know”

Some other people can’t go three sentences without appending a “like” to the beginning of a sentence. This is not a good if you want people to take what you say seriously. “Like” and “You know” are close cousins to crutch words. They make you look silly and incompetent when overused.

3. “Just”

Saying things like, “Just wanted to ask a question” or “Just checking in” weakens your statements and waters down your requests. You seem less sure of yourself and less confident than you probably are. Drop the extra word and speak like a boss. Talk like you know what you want.

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4. “Kind Of”

The words “kind of” or “sort of” used in conversations make you come across as vague and ambiguous. You look like you have no idea what’s going on or are afraid of committing. Unless you want people to think you are timid or clueless of what’s going on, don’t misuse these words.

5. “Hopefully”

If you are always saying “hopefully” to everything in conversation or that you’ll hopefully get something done, you’re actually telling people that you don’t have control over situations. This can backfire on you because it can communicate that you are weak, powerless or even unreliable.

6. “Actually”

“Actually” has become the new “basically” or “literally.” People use it even where it doesn’t stylistically make sense. For example, the phrase “but actually” is terribly misused. This particular usage is often unnecessary (fluff) and can make you seem uninformed and pitiful.

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7. “Sorry”

99% of the times people use the word “sorry” in conversations where no apology is necessary. Saying things like, “Sorry, can you come visit me?” or “Sorry, can I take you out?” can be misinterpreted to mean you’re not confident. Drop the “sorry” and say what you mean confidently. If you want to apologize for something, say sorry like you really mean it.

8. F-bomb

Dropping the occasional f-bomb (curse words) can add emphasis to what you are saying. But, often curse words are unnecessary and plain offensive. They suggest you are insecure about what is being discussed or are simply a rude and brutish individual. Cut curse words from your conversations.

Possible solution for glitches in conversation

Admittedly, getting rid of these communication glitches is not easy. The mistakes creep into your conversations before you realize it. However, a technique you can use to curb these errors (suggested by improvement thinkers like Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins, and also bloggers like Scott H. Young) is to keep a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you make a communication blunder (say, using um’s and ah’s), switch the rubber band onto your opposite wrist. If you can go seven days with the band staying on the same wrist, you’re making progress.

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Featured photo credit: polandeze via flickr.com

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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