You may remember the old playground adage in grade school: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Unfortunately, says Darlene Price, “this saying does not apply in the workplace.”
Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results,” says words, poorly and unconsciously chosen, can indeed harm your credibility, relationships, and opportunities for career advancement.
“Words matter,” she explains. “They are a key component of persuasive communication. Regardless of the audience, topic, or industry, or whether the setting is a stand-up presentation, sit-down conversation, telephone discussion, or an online meeting, a leader uses language to influence someone’s mind in order to achieve a certain result. That’s one reason they’re seen as leaders; their words compel people to follow. “
When you want to influence others to see something your way, deliberately choose to speak words that are empowering to others and avoid words that are jeopardizing to your message and credibility, she advises.
Four common words to consider dropping: “but,” “fine,” “actually,” and “try.”
“But” is a good word if you’re aiming to express “on the contrary,” Price says.
For example, “My boss went to the conference, but I remained at the office.” Here, the word “but” opposes and negates the clause that comes before it indicating a dissimilar notion.
Now imagine it your significant other said to you, “Honey, I love you, but …” Or if your boss said to you, “You’re doing a great job, but …” “This powerful conjunction puts a damper on the preceding positive clause,” she explains. “Similarly, imagine if a potential customer heard a salesperson say, ‘Our product is fast, easy, and affordable, but … we don’t have any units in stock until December.’ In this case, the word ‘but’ creates a negative that didn’t exist before.”
Hear the difference when you replace the “but” with “and”: “Our product is fast, easy, and affordable, and we’ll have units available in December.
“If you want to keep the tone positive and motivate others to act, replace ‘but’ with ‘and,'” she suggests.
The word “fine” is a useful, descriptive adjective when you want to express superior quality or the highest grade, such as a “fine wine” or “fine dining.” However, choose another word if you’re answering questions such as, “How are you?” “How’s the project going?” or “How is our new employee Sue performing?”
“In any situation where you’re describing a state of being or your emotions, the word ‘fine’ is vague, overused, and colloquial – the word may even be perceived by others as dishonest and dismissive,” warns Price.
She says people often reply with the word “fine” in less-than-satisfactory situations just to avoid confrontation. “That’s why the Urban Dictionary defines ‘I’m fine’ as ‘the most told lie in the English language.'”
Therefore, in the workplace, everyone knows from personal experience the word “fine” doesn’t really mean fine.
“To be credible and convincing as a professional, choose another word to honestly communicate the true state of affairs,” she suggests.
When someone asks how you are, or how your day is going, respond with something along the lines of: “Very well, thank you!”
If someone asks, “How’s the project coming along?” say something like: “On time and under budget! May I give you a quick update?”
If they inquire about how the new hire is doing, try: “Sue is doing a superb job – she’s great with people and a real expert in her field.”
Business Insider’s Emmie Martin points out that “prefacing sentences with this word, as in, ‘Actually, it’s right over there,’ or ‘Actually, you can do it this way,’ puts distance between you and the listener by hinting that they were somehow wrong, according to Carolyn Kopprasch, chief happiness officer at Buffer.”
She suggests you rephrase the sentence or request to create a more positive sentiment.
“While you’re at it, drop the word ‘try,'” Price suggests.
“Imagine your boss says to you, ‘I need your proposal by 10 a.m. tomorrow for the customer meeting.’ Your reply is, ‘Okay. I’ll try to get it finished.’ The word ‘try’ implies the possibility it may not get finished.”
No boss wants to hear this, as it presupposes possible failure, she adds. It also tells them you’re not completely confident in your abilities to get it done, which isn’t the message you want to send at work.
“Instead, why not say, ‘I’ll get it finished’ or ‘I’ll have it on your desk by 9 a.m.’?” Price says.