We all should strive to be nice and polite people in the workplace, but there are four phrases that you may be saying that make you appear weak and lacking confidence. I must be transparent with you all and let you know that I have frequently used all four of these phrases, however have realized over time and hearing others use them that they really lack confidence! Rather than softening your point or request, you merely devalue it and yourself as a result.
1. “I just….” This sounds polite, but starting off a sentence or a question with this diminishes the power of what you are saying. For example, “I just wanted to know if…” or “I’m just reaching out to ask….” or “I just want to say….” It seems like you are meekly seeking permission before making your point or request. Instead, say what you want to say or ask what you want to ask as directly as possible. Believe me, I am still working on this! Even now I must read my emails before I send them, and sometimes have to delete the words, “I just” at the beginning of my sentence.
2. “Sorry to bother you….” Why are you are leading with an apology, and you are telling the person you you are bothering them? This is not a positive and powerful way to start off a conversation! If you really believe you are bothering the person, then don’t initiate conversation in the first place! Instead, if you really do need or want to have a conversation with them or ask them a question, initiate with confidence asking, “do you have a few minutes?” If they don’t have time to talk, it is then their responsibility to let you know that.
3. “I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare…” When you announce this before giving a report or presentation, it signals to others that you whatever you are about to say or present is not going to be that good. On the other hand, if it is good, then it will look like you are fishing for compliments. Planting the seed of “yes, this is good, but think about how much better this would be if I had more time to work on it!”
4. “This may be off-base” or “this may be a stupid question…” If you really think your idea or question is off-base or stupid, don’t share it. But chances are, the fact that you want to share it or ask it shows that you believe it has merit, and therefore it should be shared. And if it should be shared, don’t set it up to be devalued before you have even voiced it! We have all heard that “there are no stupid questions.” In fact, I have found that some of the smartest people ask the questions the questions that no one else has the courage to ask. Sometimes they are the most basic questions that no one has answered. If you need clarification around something, simply state, “I need some clarification around this.”
If you think about all four of these phrases, they are really useless when it comes to the point you want to make or the question or request you want to ask. In his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell writes, “all good communicators get to the point before their listeners start asking, “what’s the point?”