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Common phrases that are sabotaging your career

Common phrases that are sabotaging your career Erika Weinstein
iMedia's Best Content of 2014. You're seeing this article on our homepage again because it's part of iMedia's year-end best content roundup. We will return to our regular publishing schedule of original content on Jan. 5.

When you say thoughtless things in meetings, you are sabotaging yourself, the team, and/or your company. The wrong word can cost you an account, a job, a friend, and a partner. Sounds crazy right? But in the words of Mark Twain, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter -- 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."

There is no question that words and our style of speaking matter. How you speak and what you say is a reflection of who you are -- as my son would say, "right dude." Our language and delivery are key to our communication and how we are perceived (you got it -- my son is under 21). Regardless of the audience, topic, or industry, or whether the situation is a presentation, sit-down conversation, telephone discussion, an interview, or an online meeting, people use language to either get, give, share, and/or influence others.

Common phrases that are sabotaging your career

Therefore, if you want to be perceived as a smart, valued employee or leader in the workplace, a great place to start is by deliberately choosing to speak words and phrases that are empowering to yourself and others; to use language that captivates, motivates, and inspires; and to communicate a vocal persona that conveys transparency, confidence, and integrity.

As an executive recruiter for the past 17 years, I have had the good fortune to speak with hundreds of executives and senior leaders, whether they are seeking a new position or looking to hire people for their team. Certain phrases consistently come up that make me ponder the underlying issues: "I've been telling my team that we need X and no one's doing it" or "I'm looking to hire people that can outperform my current sales manager." Often, I find that their words and tone reveal insecurities about themselves and negative thinking regarding their co-workers and company. Never before in the history of the human race have we been able to communicate faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive; where people must be cutting-edge, competitive, and cost-effective; and where employees and leaders who don't chose their words carefully will likely be replaced by those who convey a more positive attitude, collaborative spirit, proactive behavior, and professional demeanor -- and it does not matter who you are and how much money you have (i.e. Donald Sterling).

The valley girl -- "Like, you know..."

As soon someone says this, I no longer can listen to the rest of the conversation. I'm betting that there are many people out there who feel exactly the same way. I often respond with, "Like no, I don't know..." Pay attention to this phrase, if you're in the habit of saying it, stop. It makes you sound foolish and childlike. In fact, I recommend dropping the word "like" from your office persona and leaving it on Facebook.

The too cool for school -- "That's not my job..."

Have you ever heard this from a colleague?  How does it make you feel? Regardless of how inopportune or unsuitable a request may be, it is likely important to the other person or they would not have asked. If you are not perceived as a contributing member of the team and come off as an indifferent, removed, and self-centered employee, your chances of advancing in your career are slim to none, and those words are partners.

The whiner -- "It's not fair"

Please, I said this to my mom on several occasions growing up -- and guess what, it never worked! "Don got the last two sales leads, and it's not fair." "Well," said a recent client, "perhaps you should have been in the office when those leads came in!" Inequalities happen on the job and in the world every day. My client told me that he has an issue with whiners. He finds that the people who are closing deals and coming up with innovative ideas don't usually complain. Of course, he admits that "injustices do happen," but he would prefer an intelligent fact building case then whining. I asked him what happened to the whiner. "After a time, I got tired of the complaints and the lack of results and had to let her go."

The unsure -- "I think..."

Last week, I had received a call from a sales person who started off the conversation with, "I think my services might be a good fit for your company." "Really?" I replied. "You mean you don't know? Then why did you call me?" If you can't speak with conviction when you're talking to potential clients, then why would they ever want to buy your goods and/or services? I've never walked in a store where the salesperson says, "I think we might be able to help you."

There is a slight difference in saying, "I think" and "I believe" or even asking a question, "Hi, how are you and how can I help you?" The words you choose have a profound effect on how your message is received." The words "think" and "might" run the risk of you sounding unsure or insecure. Conversely, "I believe" conveys passion and is more assertive.

The wimp --"I'll try"

Imagine that you ask your friend to drive you to an important appointment and she replies, "OK, I'll try, but I can't guarantee that I'll get you there safely." When you tell a colleague and/or your boss that "you'll try," you don't leave them feeling confident about your abilities to get the job done. It's a little change -- "I will" from "I'll try" -- but it speaks volumes about you and your can do attitude.

The bully -- "He's a jerk," or "She's lazy," or "I hate this company"

There is nothing worse than a name caller, and I can guarantee no faster way to get to the unemployment line. You also sound like a juvenile school-yard bully. Avoid making unkind, judgmental statements that will inevitably reflect poorly on you.

The stuck in the mud -- "But we've always done it that way..."

This saying reminds me of people who say, "When I was a kid, we didn't have cell phones and birds tweeted, not people." Again, getting back to the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet world of today, effective leaders value innovation, creative thinking, and problem solving. So the person who says this in a meeting sounds closed-minded and inflexible. Perhaps before you react to a different idea, take a moment to think and say, "You know, I'd love to hear about it when you have more facts and you've flushed out the idea."

The naysayer -- "That's impossible" or "There's nothing I can do"

Really? Are you sure you've considered every single possible solution and the list is now exhausted? Certainly the Apollo 13 astronauts didn't have the luxury of saying, "This is impossible." They had to come up with a solution; their survival depended on it. So when you make a negative statement, your words convey a pessimistic, passive, even hopeless outlook. 

The fortune yeller -- "You should have..." or "You could have..."

You probably wouldn't be thrilled if someone said, "You should have told me about this sooner" or "You could have tried a little harder." Chances are, these fault-finding words inflict feelings of blame and finger-pointing. Blaming and finger-pointing don't foster a collaborative team building environment, and you usually don't win the hearts and minds of your colleagues and leaders.

The discounter -- "I may be wrong, but..." or "This may be a silly idea, but..."

I truly feel sorry for the people who diminish the impact of their ideas, opinions, and actions. When you say these things in a meeting, you are revealing to the participants how much value you place on yourself and your message. "Well, I know you're going to disagree, but I think we should be charging more to our clients." Wow, this guy has got to be kidding, right? I would have preferred that my CFO said, "Given that our manufacturing costs have gone up 20 percent in the last 18 months, we will need to pass some costs to our clients."

The hedge -- "Don't you think?" or "OK?"

These phrases are commonly known as hedging -- seeking validation through the use of overly cautious or non-committal words. If you truly are seeking approval or looking for validation, these phrases may well apply. However, if your goal is to communicate a confident commanding message and persuade people to see it your way, instead of hedging, make your statement or recommendation with certainty.

Imagine your lawyer saying, "This is a good company to merge, don't you think? I'll write up the papers, if that's OK with you." Instead, you'd probably want to hear something like, "This merger is astute and will triple a return on investments. With your approval, I'll write up the legal documents needed for next steps."

The superior -- "I don't have time for this right now" or "I'm too busy"

Even if these statements are true, no one wants to feel less important than something or someone else. When I answer the phone, the caller usually asks me if this is a good time to speak. Usually I'm busy, but unless I'm late for a meeting or missing a deadline, I invariably answer, "I'm not too busy for you." Like many people in business, I need to foster positive relations and expand my reputation. Let's face it, everyone is busy!

Most of these phases are common and some are difficult to eliminate from our vocabulary, but I think if we start paying attention to our words and how we deliver them, we might be able to build a better career, close more deals, make more money, and have happier relationships at home and in the office. Our words reflect who we are and they can encumber our career as well as help achieve greatness. Here is a tip to build self-awareness and eradicate the phrases from your conversations:

Record yourself

When you're on the phone in a business setting, record your side of the conversation and then listen to the recording afterward. Sometimes it's helpful to have a trusted colleague listen with you and ask them their opinion. Be on the listening for phrases on this list or any other words or phrases that may be perceived as limiting or negative? When I first started recruiting, I used a note pad (I still do) with two things on the top -- the "do's" and "don'ts." I would write down the sayings that worked and the ones I will never use again. I keep that list to this day.

Erika Weinstein is CEO and founder of eTeam Executive Search.

On Twitter? Follow Erika Weinstein at @eTalentSeeker. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Black Keyboard Grenade on White Background" and "Vintage paper" images via Shutterstock.

Erika Weinstein brings over 16 years of Executive Search experience preceded by a successful entrepreneurial career in media, promotional marketing and unique service companies.  In 1994, prior to becoming a Search Consultant utilizing her vast...

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