If you're preparing for a high-stakes business meeting, you have no doubt given meticulous thought to your attire and the types of questions you may be asked. Your efforts aren't in vain. A recent study conducted by Abraham M. Rutchick of California State University, Northridge found a correlation between what you wear and your ability to think creatively and concentrate.
Just like body language, those around you can read between the lines to gauge your true feelings, despite what you intend to communicate. Words have power. Paying close attention to the words you choose is in your best interest.
Here are a dozen tips for using words that reflect who you are and where you want to go.
1. Just say yes.
"Yeah" is the default affirmative answer that many people use in casual conversation. In a situation where you're putting your best foot forward, reply with a solid "Yes, I am familiar with the research," instead of "yeah," "yep," or any other slang variation. This simple modification is an easy way to elevate your presence.
2. Watch out for verbal filler.
Practice answering standard questions with a friend and ask them to keep track of how often you say "um," "like," "really," or "basically." These are meaningless words that we often insert to buy our brains more time to come up with our next thoughts. The fillers dilute what you "really," "truly," "basically" want to say, which can be annoying and distracting.
3. Don't be a basher.
Saying "I can't stand," "I hate," and "I don't like" reflects a certain immaturity that is marked with a tendency to emphasize and exaggerate strong feelings. Even when the feelings are positive--"I love this!"--try to find a better method to deliver your thoughts. Too strong a stance "is the worst ever!"
This word can make you seem lacking or, well, needy. Instead of saying "I need to learn more about that," try "I am looking forward to learning more about the company." One implies deficiency; the other conveys enthusiasm and a drive to achieve.
5. Kinda sorta.
Avoid this vague word, which sends a message of uncertainty. It can be interpreted as a tactic to dodge a question. Be direct and own your "yes" or "no."
6. You guys.
Though frequently used in everyday life, overly casual rhetoric doesn't belong in a professional conversation. Your vocabulary should closely align with your career goals and the business environment.
Occasionally, I am confronted with the argument that using "y'all" in certain regions is acceptable. While it is a variation of "you all," it's slang and rhymes with crawl, brawl, scrawl, and pawl, and doesn't translate well or convey a powerful message.
8. The problem with "no problem."
This phrase has become an almost universal response to "thank you," but you will sound more mature and professional with a sincere "you're welcome." "No problem" might be appropriate if your client walks in late and apologizes for running 20 minutes behind, but a better alternative would be "The extra few minutes gave me the opportunity to catch up on some work."
You learned some great financial terms in your business classes, and you are dying to throw them around in front of your colleagues. Although you believe your use of jargon may help you to fit in with your peers, it can just as easily seem unnatural or like you're trying too hard. Even if you work in a casual environment, shortening "difficult" to "diff" can leave a client scratching her head.
10. Amazing and awesome.
Overly enthusiastic words convey a lack of sophistication, in spite of a person's positive intentions. And when a person uses the same words repeatedly, they begin to sound insincere.
Consider describing the results or experience in more detail: "I will never forget the look on Tim's face when we found out our department generated the most sales this quarter. His jaw dropped, followed by a grin from ear to ear. We are so incredibly proud of your diligent efforts." Compare that to a generic "You guys did an awesome job."
Even in a laid back workplace, don't allow the environment to set the standard for your language. Think about the potential red flag your speech may signal, as well as the corporate culture. You never know who is taking a company tour around the corner.
12. Won't and can't.
Like "woulda, coulda, shoulda," these are passive, defeatist words that you might not even realize you are saying. They can portray you as someone who focuses on obstacles instead of figuring out how to get around them.
Conversational habits can be deeply ingrained. Before your next networking event or business engagement, an honest self-assessment of your communication tendencies is critical. Make the mental shift first and the right words will follow.