Career Advice

Confidence at Work: 8 things NOT to say

As bold and fierce as we are, we sometimes have the tendency to unwittingly undermine our own confidence. This comes out in the way we speak – little subtle phrases that we use unwittingly signal to our audience that we lack confidence. Here are 8 things NOT to say if you want to sound more confident and assertive at work: 

1. DON’T: end a sentence with “…if that makes sense”

WHY NOT? Underlying this statement is a hint to your audience that you don’t really know what you are talking about. The implication is “I know I’m being unclear so you probably don’t understand what I am saying.”

INSTEAD:  Be very purposeful and clear in your statements. If someone needs clarification, let them be the one to ask. Or you can say, “let me know if you need further clarification?” 

2. DON’T: use the word JUST”

…as in “I just wanted to know if you reviewed that document yet” or “just wondering if you could meet with me today” 

WHY NOT? The word “just” is a permission word. Using it makes you sound apologetic (and weak) when you don’t have a reason to be. 

INSTEAD: Eliminate the “J word” altogether. “Please let me know if you are able to meet with me today” makes you look way more confident and assertive. 

3.  DON’T: say “I’m not good at…” or “I suck at that”

WHY NOT? As women, there are already so many messages out there about why we are not as good. Don’t feed into that. 

INSTEAD: Draw attention to your strengths. If you actually do suck at something, say “I don’t have experience in that,” and then highlight your ability to learn it or desire to improve. 

4. DON’T: say “This may be wrong , but…”

WHY NOT? You already lost credibility for anything that comes out of your mouth after this phrase. Again, you are highlighting your lack of confidence.

INSTEAD: Of course, it would be best to fact-check before engaging in conversations. But sometimes you’re in a situation where that isn’t possible. Try to only speak on things you are confident about. If you have a hint of uncertainty, you can say “I’ll make sure to double check this, but…”

5. DON’T: Use Excuses

WHY NOT? Excuses are the tools of the incompetent. And you are not incompetent.

INSTEAD: Try to avoid having to come up with an excuse altogether. If you find yourself needing to explain something, be firm and offer alternative solutions.

6. DON’T: Be Silent

WHY NOT? This is passive communication. Even though you said nothing, your audience might perceive that you don’t have an opinion or you are not confident that your voice matters.

INSTEAD: Speak up! One caveat here: sometimes less is more. But you definitely don’t want to be silent. Your thoughts and input are important. 

7. DON’T: use “umm”, “uh” or “like”

WHY NOT? This is a tough one. We are all, uhh, guilty of, like, using these words. It makes your speech less smooth and less clear.

INSTEAD: Practice not using these words, even in casual conversations. Speak more slowly. It’s OKAY to take a minute to think before you respond, so take your time and make sure your statements flow well.

8. DON’T: Avoid eye contact (I know this isn’t a phrase but it is nonverbal communication)

WHY NOT: Eye contact is one of the most important, yet underestimated, communication tools. 

INSTEAD: Hold your head up and look your audience in the eye. But don’t be weird about it. One trick I’ve learned is to look at the middle of their forehead.

By Christyl Wilson

Guest Contributor


Christyl is a currently pursuing a PhD in developmental psychology at Georgia State University. She is also a program manager at http://www.cinnamongirl.org.

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