It is baffling to me that some people will work so hard to get ahead in business--educate themselves, seek out satisfying clients and partners, and hone their technical skills--only to blow it by using expressions that undermine their credibility.

Avoid saying the following six phrases at all costs. Sadly, they are so common that I've heard them all in just the past month in client, team, and board meetings.

  1. I'm not good with names. When being introduced to a group, some people say this. To give themselves a pass? To apologize in advance for a future name screwup? I don't know why people say this, but it is akin in my mind to sitting down with your accountant and hearing her say, "Sorry, I'm not good with numbers." Wait, what? If you're in business, then you're in the business of connecting with people, and that means remembering their names--or at least trying. Everyone has the same challenge remembering names when being introduced to a group. If you've encountered someone good at it, it means that person's practicing a couple of memory tricks, and wow, isn't it effective? People feel special when you remember their names. Saying upfront that you're not good with names conveys that you're not that interested in a long-term connection. Ick.
  2. I don't Twitter. I've only heard Baby Boomers say this--it's an intentional misuse of social media terms as a way to be cute in front of their peers. It's not cute, though. It just makes you look old. That said, you don't have to be up to speed on all the latest communication tools and outlets. It's fine to opt out of some of them after you've taken the time to understand their purpose and potential and have decided that they're not the right outlets for your market or message. But to announce a lack of awareness is like broadcasting the message loud and clear that your skills have passed their expiration date.
  3. We agreed to circles, but I really think squares would be best. Although there are exceptions, there is a time and place for discussion and debate. Once your internal team reaches a decision, you get on board or stand by your disagreement. If your team believes it has reached consensus, only to find out later that you're speaking out against the decision to an external audience, you risk losing the confidence of your team. If you said you're on board, you have to stick by that agreement until conditions change and you've had a chance to discuss it again internally with your team. Telling two groups different things (especially when on the basis of what you think they want to hear) doesn't end well.
  4. Well, it's complicated. A colleague has this great picture of Einstein hanging in his office captioned with the quote, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Responding to a direct question with "It's complicated" sends two unintentional signals--first, that you don't know the answer well and second, that you don't think the person asking has the capacity to understand complex material. Putting yourself down and insulting your audience (even subtly) are both undesirable outcomes. Obviously. Here’s a great TED Talk from Melissa Marshall on how to communicate complex material.
  5. Sugar-pie, honey, darlin’ and dear. Nothing against Tim McGraw, but (luckily) we don't work in a country music song. Cute names are for loved ones, not co-workers, employees, clients, or partners. While generally meaning no harm, use of these names can grate on the nerves of the target--and raise the eyebrows of anyone within earshot. Sticking simply to first names is best.
  6. I don't care what color you are--black, white, green, purple. Where to start? There are a couple of issues embedded in this type of statement. First, there are no green or purple people in our world. Next, people simply don't believe other people's claims of colorblindness. And I cannot think of a single context in which attempting to declare your personal nondiscriminatory views convinces others that you do not discriminate. Better than saying anything like this, which actually draws attention to our differences, is to just not discriminate. No words are needed when your actions speak for you.

The flip side of each of these phrases--whether you say them out loud or not--actually builds credibility. Making a concerted effort to get to know everyone in the room helps you connect. Demonstrating an understanding of why and how others use social media and articulating why you do or don’t sounds smart--not old-fashioned. Honoring your team’s decision by sticking with it after you’ve agreed to do so means you stay true to your word. Understanding the technical content you’re presenting so well that you could explain it simply to people of varying levels of familiarity is a strength. Using your colleagues' and clients' preferred names instead of assigning silly or patronizing nicknames helps you stick out for the right reasons. And lastly, walking the walk is always preferred to just talking the talk when it comes to matters of diversity and inclusion.

Are you in a leadership role and looking for more tips on how to build credibility? Check out Peter Economy’s top eight ideas.

Published on: Aug 31, 2015