You're in mid-conversation with a work colleague, and out of nowhere (or so you think), that person disengages and loses interest. If you are keenly self-aware, you may even notice subtle body language that informs you something just shifted.

But what? Is it something you said? Most likely, yes. When you begin to pay attention to your vernacular, there are certain words we often use that hardly register on our internal radar.  

They are filthy little words that can hold us back. Now that you know that, here are the three culprits to listen for as you speak.

1. "But."

But is a filthy little word. It deceives us from our own truth, stops us from moving forward, and makes us victims of life. Most of the time we're not even consciously aware of its limitations on us.

Here's what it usually means: "Ignore all that good-sounding stuff that came before--here comes the truth." 

The truth is usually not what people want to hear, especially if but is accompanied by its closest friend: if only.

"If only I had more help on this project, I'd be ahead of schedule. If only my team was more supportive of me, I'd be jetting out the door in time for the game before traffic hits."

Then there's the dreaded "yes, but." This is the but we use when ignoring the unbearably good advice of others. Yes, but means, "Here comes the argument for my limitations."

Eliminate your but from your thinking, and enjoy a more positive outlook.

2. "Try."

This filthy little word also dominates our vernacular and severely limits us without us even knowing it. It's worthy of the most eye-rolls. Example:

"I'll try to get that report to you by tomorrow."

"I'll try to make it by noon."

"I'll try and see if I can make the time for that meeting."

Try usually means: Even though I heard your request, it's not really a priority right now for me to follow through on that request, but I just can't be honest enough to tell it to your face.

Try doesn't get past really intuitive and emotionally-intelligent people. When they hear it, they know the truth, see through you, and peg you as inauthentic.

Try creates doubt -- in your own mind and in the minds of others. That makes you the most unreliable person in the room.

Instead of "I'll try and be more vocal in meetings," an easy replacement is to use "I will." 

"I will commit to speaking out next time we meet." 

As the wise Jedi Master Yoda once said: "Do, or do not. There is no try."

3. "Can't."

Your co-workers will dread hearing I can't because what they're translating that to be in their brains is I won't. 

Using can't conveys that you're not pulling your own weight, that you're unwilling to do what it takes to be part of the team and get the job done. If you truly can't do something for whatever reason (skills, time, lack of resources, etc.) you need to come up with an alternative solution with a "can do" approach instead.

Change "I can't run that report for you this afternoon" to "I'm not entirely confident I can run such a complex report by myself. Can someone in accounting show me so I can send this off to you as soon as possible?"

Final Thoughts

As I stated earlier, most of us don't notice these filthy little words -- they just sneak up on us. The key is to get in the habit of catching yourself "in the middle of the act" until you've trained your brain to not say them.

Can you think of what other filthy little words should be on this list? Comment below.