“I Was Just Checking In” and Other Words to Ban from Your Vocabulary

My studio mates and I were chatting about client communication the other week, and Colleen (otherwise known as 2nd Truth) mentioned this article on women’s tendency to overuse the word “just.” It got me thinking about my experiences in consulting and how different my language and tone tends to be based on who I’m working with.

I’ve always felt women have particular advantages in working environments. High levels of emotional EQ, collaborative working style, active leadership techniques, etc. Softer language is often used in delivering feedback and critiques, but are some of our language choices selling ourselves short in the eye of our superiors?

When you start thinking about the words we use to soften our language, they begin to reveal a lot about how we view ourselves in the workplace. The words “just” and “but” and “try” all diminish the quality of our input and ability to complete tasks. They muddy expectations and downplay authority.

I put together a list of words and phrases I use to a fault.

Wit & Delight’s Words to Watch
(and how to quit them)

1. But (Say “and” or “while” instead)
When you use “but” you create conflict that doesn’t exist. Replacing “but” with “and” or “while” so you have the opportunity to think about how you can deal with both parts of the statement.

Example:
I want to launch a new product line, but I have to spend my time writing for the blog.
vs:
I want to launch a new product line, and I have to spend my time writing for the blog.

How to quit: Changing “but” to “and” helps you look for two positive outcomes, rather than looking for reasons you can’t reach a goal or complete a task.

2. It’s been busy. (Say “I apologize for the inconvenience” instead)
No one likes excuses, and it puts you on the defense. Don’t apologize for doing your job, apologize when it is merited.
How to quit: Acknowledge the issue rather than brushing over it. Try using the phrase “I apologize for the inconvenience” and move on.

3. Does that make sense? (Say “Do you have any questions?” instead)
Ending your statement with  “Does that make sense?” is asking for validation and undermines the value of your input.
How to quit: Asking for validation takes away from your credibility on the subject.

4. Have to (Say “going to” or “want to” instead)
Using “have to” makes it sound like you don’t have a choice in the matter or you’re under pressure to complete something against your will.
How to quit: Replacing this phrase with “want to” gives you a choice in the matter! Obviously, this doesn’t always work when it pertains to work, but the sentiment is worth nothing.

5. Try (Banish this all together)
“Try” suggests you’re not sure you’re able to complete the task. We use the word “try” when we’re not being completely honest about the ask or maybe we’re aware we’re overcommitting ourselves. When someone uses the phrase “I’ll try to make it” I assume they’re not coming. It’s a great example of not being clear about your intentions.
How to quit: Be direct and manage expectations. There’s nothing to lose when you are realistic about what you’re able to do, and if you happen to deliver on the task that wasn’t required, you gain more than if you simply completed what was asked of you.

6. Just (Banish this one, too.)
Here’s an excerpt from the article that inspired this post:

“I am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that just wasn’t about being polite: It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.

And as I began to pay attention, I was astonished — believe me — at how often I used the word.

I sent a memo to my work teammates about the “J” word and suggested a moratorium on using it. We talked about what it seemed to imply — everyone agreed — and how different that message was from the way we saw ourselves: trusted advisers, true partners, win-win champions of customer success.”

Using the word “just” before a declaration diminishes the intent.  Why make your actions appear smaller or less significant?

How to quit: Remove it all together. Challenge your colleagues to do the same and call you out when you let it slip. You’ll be surprised how much your communication changes when you begin to remove the word.

7. Should (Don’t use “should” on yourself or others)
This word can quickly become a shaming device for a moral judgment or habit you’re guilty of indulging. It is particularly divisive when you use “should” to others.

Example:
You should stop smoking. You’ll make yourself sick!
vs:
I want you to stop smoking. I’m so scared you’ll get sick.

How to quit: Beware of how you use this word to put yourself down and how you use it to let yourself off the hook instead of committing to something you want to achieve.

8. Really? (Say “That’s surprising” or “I had no idea” instead)
This word is often used to express interest or surprise when it does imply that you’re questioning the validity of someone’s statement.
How to quit: If you do have a follow-up question or need more information, by all mean, ask.

9. I’m no expert but… (Get rid of this one, too)
Women are particularly prone to use qualifiers when presenting their ideas. We want to avoid coming off as too pushy or cocky, or maybe we’re worried about being wrong. It’s natural to fear this, but the reality is it won’t cost you your job or reputation. Regardless, prefacing a statement with a qualifier reduces the credibility of everything that follows.
How to Quit: Some experts suggest taking a deep breath to collect your thoughts before speaking or taking some time to pause before continuing with your point. I’ve found purposeful pauses help show you’re deliberate with your words, giving them a greater impact.

10. No worries. (Say “You’re welcome” instead)
When someone thanks us for doing a favor or for putting in extra time and effort into a task, instead of saying thank you, we often use the phrase “no worries” diminishes your role in solving the matter.
How to quit: Saying “You’re welcome” is a direct way to acknowledge what you did for someone else had value, merit, and should be noticed.

Even as I was writing this post, I found myself using many of these words in my writing. Take the day to pay attention to words you use to connect your ideas. What happens if you remove them? Are you more truthful? Are you thinking about your ideas more clearly?

Sign up for our email newsletter for this week’s printable featured trigger words and suggestions for their replacement. We designed them to keep at your desk so you can reference them quickly and work to shift your words from disempowering to language that brings a more empowering way of communicating.

words-to-live-by-printable

Image by 2nd Truth // Design by Wit & Delight

Original Article: “Just” So No by  Ellen Leanse via Women2.0

 

  • Lately I find people are using “actually” a lot in both written and verbal conversations when it isn’t necessary, it drives me nuts. I’ve been making an effort to stop using “just” after reading the same article (your post is missing a link to the original).

  • One more very important one for Americans: stop saying “uh huh” when someone says thank you. I’D rather hear “no worries” any day. Uh huh sounds like a barn animal. The polite response is “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure.”

  • Kate,

    Love the list. This would be great to share with my students who are learning English. This can help them build more confidence in their English skills and be more positive thinking when they use these phrases.

    Happy Monday.
    Mailinh

  • Ugh so agreed! I swear I used to be so good, but once I got a new job, and felt like I lost some of my authority, I slipped up again. My worst one: I was just wondering… !!

  • I love that you took the time to make this list. I am so guilty of the “j” word, I have to proof everything before I hit send because inevitably I find it’s one of my crutch words…that and writing in the past tense by default. I think women tend to use the “j” word and it’s dis-empowering. XOXO

  • GREAT advice. Our choice of words plus the tone have such an effect on how people perceive our direction. I really like this list and would add not using “sort of” which I hear a lot from women but not men. It makes us sound uncertain and less confident. Thank you for this post!

  • This is wonderful. In the vein of things I have been saying more OFTEN, I am getting real good at saying, “I don’t like that.” even to my baby daughter (when she kicks or bites, which is distressingly often). What I was surprised to learn? It’s effective. People really listen when you look them in the eye and say, “i don’t like that.” As a woman – especially one who once had a reputation as a people-pleaser – it’s been particularly important in light of recent events for me to be direct about my boundaries, both bodily and emotionally. Thanks for these great posts, W&D team!

  • I was listening to the Jess Lively podcast recently where she talked about the importance of omitting “but”. And it really spoke to me! I’ve worked on taking it out and it does kind of make me feel a little silly sometimes. It also makes me feel strong and sure of myself. It’s become such an important practice in self-care, believe it or not.

  • Google has an extension for your email called “Just not Sorry” which will highlight the qualifier words like just, sorry, I think, I’m no expert. It’s great to help catch yourself before you send out an important message.

  • The battle against “just” is real! I’ve been trying not to use it in work emails for the last year-ish, and still have to do a proofing pass to get rid of it. Need to keep an eye out for these others as well…

  • Here’s one I use way too often, mostly in emails: “when you have a chance’…
    It’s like I am asking permission for someone to do a work related task. I am working on eliminating this one, for sure!

  • This post was very thoughtfully constructed- thank you! One note, with regard to number two: I wouldn’t even apologize. Instead, I would thank that person for their patience and let them know how much I’ve been looking forward to working with them. Keeps it positive and ensures that neither parties feel there is some kind of deficit within the relationship.

  • I keep a list of words, similar to this, on the wall above the desk in my office. It’s surprises me the number of times in the day when I’ve been in the middle of a conversation and paused to glance at the list.

  • I am guilty of all of these and this was a great eye opener for me to think about how I am communicating. On a conference call the other day I caught myself asking “does that make sense” so many times. As I was reflecting on that, I realized it can also come across as demeaning to your audience – which is the opposite intent I had. They are a highly competent team and asking them if it makes sense makes it sound as if I don’t think they understand. Asking if they have any questions would have been much more effective! Thank you for the great posts!

  • These lists of ‘words women use’ concern me. Firstly because the notion that language is gendered has been debunked. My male boss says ‘no worries’ and ‘I’m no expert’ frequently. The female intern? Never uses qualifiers.

    Even if it were true, it conforms with the notion that men provide the standard and women must be shaped and criticised until we fall into line.

    The words, language and communication styles we use don’t really matter. Who cares if you use qualifiers? It’s not the reason we’re not as successful as men.

    The real message here is the one we keep hearing – that whatever we women say is wrong.

    • Hi Kiki,

      Thank you for speaking up! I see your point and think it’s a really important call out.

      First of all, this list was called “Words to Watch, ” and our print out gives thought starters on selecting empowering language– not for the person we’re speaking to, but for ourselves. Above all, it’s a reminder not to sell yourself short. This applies to everyone, not just women. So thank you for helping me clarify that point. When I was editing this post, I was tempted to take out certain language that spoke directly to women, and then decided to keep them in because my personal experiences had proven them to be more common occurrence than not.

      Lastly, I challenge you to reconsider oversimplifying the message here. History shows our words are powerful and yes, how we use them does, in fact, matter. The rules aren’t always fair and if they have been for you– AWESOME. But we don’t get anywhere by arguing if this reality is true or not. Above all, each of us has the right to define what success looks like for ourselves. Getting there often means understanding what obstacles are in your way.

  • As I was reading through the list, I realized that I’m guilty of using nearly all of these on a regular basis! I’m starting to pay attention to exactly how much I frame my statements at work with language that makes them seem tentative, hesitant and searching for approval – partly because I want to cover my bases if the rest of the team doesn’t like an idea (that way I won’t have sounded so solidly convinced on it myself), and partly because I think I’m afraid of coming across as pushy. It’s seriously hard to cut these phrases out though – they slip out so easily during any kind of spoken communication!

  • I am pleased you mentioned “literally” as not only is it overused, it’s usually pronounced “lit-rally” or “li-trally.”

    Is anyone tired of “go ahead and”?

    (Of course, I’m very old and very cranky.)

  • I agree mostly with your list of words to watch or take out… when speaking. It’s really hard to convey tone in email and I find myself using some of those phrases so I don’t come off harsh (I’m a graphic designer and talking to clients). I always read emails from people in the harshest tone which is probably a habit I should work on breaking.

    I disagree with the “no worries” response though. When someone thanks me, I don’t need a “you’re welcome.” I truly mean no worries or no problem because it’s nothing to worry about and it wasn’t a problem.

    A friend of mine ranted about a person doing something nice for them and that person said “no problem.” What in the world!? They just did something nice for you and you’re mad at their choice of words when accepting your thanks. That’s a problem!

  • Someone once mentioned that saying “no problem” is a message implying that you thought what they did for you was a problem and they had to say no problem. Of course that’s not what we thought at all…it’s simply a more current response in language these days that has replaced “your welcome” especially with the younger generation. I also prefer “your welcome” as it is most appropriate. Now if someone bumps into me in the store and says “sorry”…I will reply with “no problem” in that instance. Or “you’re fine”.
    Thanks for the list. I loved it.

  • Instead of “I think…”, use “I believe…”.

    I think our best course of action is to be open to new ideas.
    I believe our best course of action is to be open to new ideas.

  • I’d actually go so far as to get rid of “I feel.” In the context of “I feel like this is not the right choice.” It’s another way to smooth over our opinions– replacing it with “I think,” or simply dropping it, makes the statement more credible. Unfortunately my reasoning comes down to the sexist likelihood that feelings, particularly women’s feelings, are not as important as thoughts, but, like someone upthread mentioned, the way women talk is constantly criticized anyway.

  • Thanks for this list. A couple other phrases I’d like to stop saying and hearing:

    “That’s interesting.” OR “Interesting.”

    And the word “pretty” as in “That’s pretty good.”

    Both of these words/phrases don’t add to the conversation or explain what one is feeling.

  • A good addition to this list is, in my opinion, the word ‘sorry’ used to apologise for something we either don’t or shouldn’t feel sorry about. Say ‘thank you’ instead: it lifts a blame we don’t necessarily have to carry and acknowledges that we are grateful for the other person’s understanding. Examples:
    Don’t say “Sorry I’m late”, say “Thank you for waiting”
    Don’t say “Sorry to ask you this”, say “Thank you for helping me with this”
    Don’t say “Sorry this was long”, say “Thank you for listening/reading”
    Inspired from: http://www.boredpanda.com/stop-saying-sorry-say-thank-you-comic-yao-xiao/
    (Obviously nothing is more important and empowering than being able to say sorry when we really are!)

  • I have mixed feelings about this. I read this as a way for women to mold themselves more into men, to be more like men in the workplace. I constantly see lists of what women shouldn’t say, but never see lists of what men shouldn’t say. Grammar issues I agree with, but when it comes to words that need to be banned so we don’t look as soft in the workplace…this I can’t get behind.

  • Hi!
    I found this post so inspiring!
    I wonder if it´s possible to translate the article to Portuguese in order for it to reach an even bigger audience. I thought of publishing it on Medium with the right references.
    Would that be ok?
    Thanks!

  • I decided a long time ago to stop using WONDERING. “I was just wondering…” there are so many more polished ways: I wanted to ask if.. I was thinking/hoping etc. are so much better.