OMG! Honestly, to tell you the truth, I wrote an article for Inc.com about things people say that undermine their credibility, and it had like thousands of people sharing it and stuff. To be honest, a ton of people emailed me, too…
Okay, there’s no way I can keep that up. Recently we explored some of the words and phrases that make people sound unprofessional. As I suspected, it turns out we'd only scratched the surface. Thanks to everyone who contacted me to suggest other examples of things that undermine people's efforts to be taken seriously. (Got another one we missed? Let me know.)
We're talking about words, phrases, and mannerisms -- things that can be innocuous in the correct context -- but that undermine your credibility when you misuse them. (Previous examples include: "No problem," when you really mean "You’re welcome;" "Sorry," when you really mean "Excuse me"; along with nervous laughter, wandering eyes, and quite a few others you can find here.)
I heard from CEOs, college professors, business people, students, and other interested readers who suggested several more words, phrases and mannerisms --probably enough for two more columns, come to think of it. Here are a handful of the most commonly cited examples:
1. "Don't you think?"
"My least favorite speaking habit is ending a statement or sentence looking for affirmation. i.e. 'We should include the revenue stream slide in the presentation… don't you think?' It makes one seem unsure of themselves… As a female entrepreneur, I notice this a lot with women in the workplace. I encourage collaboration without self-doubt."
--Logan Cohen, co-founder and co-CEO, KDZOO
2. "That’s not a bad idea."
"Saying 'That’s not a bad idea' instead of what [they] really mean, which is 'That's a pretty good idea.' Maybe it's the inner attorney in me coming out, lowering expectations of clients, but I use it in my everyday out-of-the-office lexicon. Horrible. It makes the person you're conversing with wonder what the hell is wrong with you."
--Bob Tankel, president, Tankel Law Group
3. "I see."
"People use this as a polite way of saying, 'I hear what you're saying to me and I totally disagree,' and often they go on tiptoeing around the real issue instead of coming out and saying what they mean."
--David Viggiano, media relations director, Alpaytac Marketing
4. Playing with your hair (women).
"As a female speaker who works with a lot of… speakers and executives, this one drives me nuts. Instead of, 'I'm hear to share something important,' you’re broadcasting, 'Do I look okay?' … The equivalent for men would be stroking their chin or beard. … Own the stage. You're there for a reason."
--Tamsen Webster SVP, executive communications and coaching, Oratium
"A few years ago I was producing a viral video starring two models. Many reached out to me and used smileys and emojis in their emails. While they could get away with it because we needed them for their appearance and not their professionalism, as a producer, it was VERY hard for me to take them seriously."
--Edward Sturm, The Viral Bible
6. "To be honest…"
"Using this phrase implies that you weren't being honest before. Refrain from saying this so that everyone can assume that you're always being truthful."
--Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo
7. "I mean…"
"'I mean' is a big one right now. It's mostly used by young people who trail off before they actually state what they mean. It can also be a way to stall a sentence or a sarcastic beginning to an opinion."
8. "Consultant" or "Project Manager" (as a job title).
"Everyone is a consultant and manages some sort of project. These are the most generic titles in the world. I consult my boyfriend [regarding] dinner and manage the project of cleaning my house. I'm starting to think these titles are a [euphemism] for being unemployed."
--Kimberly Eberl, owner, Motion PR
"'Passion' in the professional word -- whether written or verbal -- is so overused… It's a word that, frankly, is best left in the bedroom… Why would you choose the career or business you're in if you didn't enjoy or excel in it? And while we're on the subject, eliminate the use of the words 'creative,' 'driven,' and 'motivated.' It's assumed you're all those things. To stand out, use a thesaurus."
--Kate Paine, principal, Kate Paine Associates
"The absolute worst habit is saying 'um.' Teachers are particularly terrible -- there's nothing like going to your child's back-to-school night and not hearing a single teacher speak without using the word "um" in every other sentence. If you're going to give a presentation of ANY kind, do yourself a favor and watch yourself on video at least once."
--Julie Pech, owner, The Chocolate Therapist
"Speaking in a cliched fashion, abusing expressions like 'think outside the box' or 'hit the ground running' will end up backfiring… Coin your own expressions or communicate via your own means."
--Rui Carreira, CEO of BuyMenStuff.com
12. Being overly familiar right after meeting someone.
"Specifically, shortening their name when they didn't invite you to so do: 'Hi, I'm Zachary.' ('Nice to meet you, Zach!')"
--Amanda Bowles, freelance communications consultant
13. "This is a dumb question, but..."
"When people say that, it just makes everyone else think you are not secure enough to ask your question, or else admit you don't understand."
--Andrea Mocherman, marketing communications, Flowroute
"With good intentions, 'again' is used to re-emphasize the point that follows it, but when either used excessively or as a filler, it becomes a noticeable verbal tic along the same lines as the triumvirate of annoying fillers 'um,' 'uh,' or 'like.'"
--Denise Doyle, principal, Garner Doyle Marketing
15. "I've got your back."
"If you have to say it, then you probably don't."
--Cheri Farmer, Grace Bay Group
16. Vocal fry.
"When you speak with a vocal fry, you kill your professional image in a second. Naomi Wolf, author of the feminist classic, The Beauty Myth, says this about the speech pattern: 'It's that guttural growl, as a Valley girl might sound if she'd been shouting herself hoarse at a rave all night.' Studies have shown that it even ruins your credibility in an interview. How to stop it? Speech therapists recommend emphasizing the closing word of the sentence as strongly as the first word."
--Maggie McCombs, content marketer at Creative Lodging Solutions
"[Anything] that undermine[s] readiness or knowledge or experience: 'I don’t know why they asked me to speak,' or 'I was surprised when they called,' or 'This isn’t my topic.' If you accept the engagement, you should be prepared to deliver valuable content."
--Christian Muntean, principal, Vantage Consulting