According to best-selling author and executive coach Wendy Capland, leaders undermine themselves with what she refers to as minimizing language – words and phrases that imply uncertainty and self-effacement even when they’re trying to give the opposite impression.

Here is Capland’s list of words and phrases that can weaken your message and dull your impact. Next time you make a proposal, write an email, give a presentation, or have an important face-to-face conversation, see how many of these all-too-common things you catch yourself saying. Once you’re aware of them, it’s a lot easier to cut down on them, or even cut them out altogether:

1. I just want…

“I’d just like to follow up…” “I just want to mention…” “I just want to tell you…”

Can you see how use of the word just dilutes the impact of each of these statements? Compare “I just want to mention that I have the right experience for this job” with “I want you to know I have the right experience for the job.” Which sounds more powerful to you? To whom would you give the job?

“It’s a qualifier,” Capland says. “It highlights to the person that whatever comment follows the word is smaller or not important.”

2. A little bit

This is another qualifier that may have even more of a minimizing effect than just does. “I’m a little bit concerned that we might have an accident in the warehouse.” If you were only a little concerned you’d have kept your mouth shut. You’re probably scared with good reason, and the words you use should make that clear.

3. I feel…

First of all, feel is too often used incorrectly to indicate a thought or a matter of judgment rather than a feeling. Even worse is the subtle message it contains that you are emotional and subject to moods. Try using “I think” or “I believe” when you’re speaking about an opinion you’ve reached or a risk assessment you’ve made.

If you really are expressing a feeling, try a form of the more direct and powerful “I am” instead. “I’m excited about this near-miss reporting project” comes across stronger than “I feel excited about this project." And “I feel confident we’ll make our safety performance numbers” indicates a lot less certainty than “I’m confident we'll make our numbers.” 

4. I’m sorry

This does not mean never apologize, Capland says. It’s appropriate to apologize when you’ve actually made a mistake or miscalculation, acted thoughtlessly, or caused discontent or harm. In these circumstances, apologizing is one of the most powerful things you can do to maintain your credibility.

The problem is that too many of us apologize almost reflexively, any time anything unpleasant happens, even if it was in no way our fault.

5. I don’t know

The point is not to pretend you know the answer when you don’t, Capland explains. If you don’t know something, it’s wise to say so -- but don’t stop there. You’ll appear not very powerful unless you follow “I don’t know” with whatever should happen next -- for example, “I’m going to do some research and get back to you on how many housekeeping-related injuries we’ve had in the past year.” Be specific about when that will happen. If you’re coaching someone in safety practices, you might follow your “I don’t know” with a suggestion as to how he or she might find an answer.

“I don’t know” should never be the end of it. “If you leave it there and you’re done, it doesn’t make you look good,” Capland says.

6. I’ll try

“When people say they’ll try, it’s not a commitment,” Capland says. “You can’t actually know what that means. It’s minimizing your power.” If you’re not sure you can do something, be as specific as you can about what you will or won’t do. Not “I’ll try to get our BBS observation numbers up,” but “I want to get those observation numbers higher but I don’t want to turn this into a pencil-whipping exercise.”

7. Turning everything into a question

Don’t phrase everything as a question. Don’t make your statements sound like questions, with a rising inflection at the end. You risk annoying everyone around you.Worse, this phrasing makes you appear weak. It sounds like you’re asking permission for everything you have to say. You don’t need permission. Go ahead and speak up.

8. Do you think I’m ready?

When offered a promotion, new safety-related assignment, or challenging safety project, this should never, ever be your response. Of course you’re ready to take on this new challenge, and everything you do and say should reflect your knowledge of that readiness.

If the new project requires specific skills that you lack--say, how to give corrective feedback when observing at-risk behavior -- then address that issue. Say that you need instruction, coaching, related articles and reference materials. But don’t ask your bosses or customers whether they think you’re ready – they may start to wonder.

Source: Inc. magazine