A large part of being a leader comes down to your verbal communication skills. The words and phrases you say hold value, and people around you will remember the impact of your words – positive or negative. Your rhetoric reflects who you are as a person and a worker.  

While every rule has an exception, certain phrases just shouldn’t hold real estate in your workplace vocabulary. 

So the choice is yours: Do you want to sound credible, reliable, confident, and knowledgeable? Most leaders do. And while we’re told that words matter and to choose them wisely, sometimes we don’t always know what the right thing to say is. Let’s take a step back and begin with eliminating some of the wrong ones to say while at work. 

“I think…”

By using the phrase above, you automatically cast a shadow of self-doubt on yourself. Not only do you single yourself out, but you’re also admitting to not being sure of what follows the introductory phrase.  

Imagine working with a financial advisor and they say to you, “I think my plan for your finances should work.” Or your child’s pediatrician tries to convince you, “I think this medication will help your baby.” Would you trust them still?  

If you’re sure of what you’re about to say, then say, “I know…” or “I am confident…” A Harvard Business Review article mentions a couple other replacements, “Instead, use the phrase ‘In my experience, I’ve found’ which validates your knowledge or ‘our view is’ which lends the weight of your entire organization.”

“I may be wrong, but…”

You’re already devaluing what you’re about to say. Your idea or suggestion might be a different or uncommon, but by setting it up in this fashion, you’re letting your listeners know the value you place on your idea, which seems to be little after admitting it could be wrong. 

Instead, find ways to emphasize your creative thinking by asking colleagues to take into consideration a different perspective. Or, as a Forbes article states, “Don’t say, ‘This may be a silly idea, but I was thinking that maybe we might conduct the quarterly meeting online instead, okay?’ Instead, assert your recommendation: ‘To reduce travel costs and increase time efficiency, I recommend we conduct the quarterly meeting online.’”


Learn to turn your apologies into thank-you’s. When you apologize, you admit fault. And oftentimes in the workplace, we apologize in moments when we aren’t doing anything wrong. 

Instead of saying sorry when you speak up in a meeting, say thank you to the person you took the floor from. Instead of apologizing for taking extra time on a project, thank everyone involved for being patient and allowing you to be thorough.  

A similar message of awareness is being sent, but without losing credibility. 

“You should have…”or “You could have…”

The main problem with the above phrases is that they inflict blame, which can be toxic in a workplace environment. Rather than placing fault on someone else when something goes wrong, find ways to take accountability for your own actions within the situation and work toward finding a solution. Keeping teamwork and collaboration at the heart of the workplace is key.  

Try using one of the following phrases as a replacement: “Going forward, I would appreciate if…” or “Next time, please make sure to…”

“Never” or “Always”

Be wary of using absolutes. As stated earlier, every rule has an exception. Claims of certainty are most often remembered and can get you into trouble when the exception does come around. 

Instead, swap out absolutes with words like  “rarely,” “hardly ever,” “usually,” or “most of the time.”

“You guys.”

Short and sweet: Addressing professionals in a professional setting as “you guys” just isn’t, well, professional. The phrase is slang. Perhaps you address your friends and family this way in a casual setting, but not in the business world. 

To keep a high level of professionalism, Forbes suggests to “substitute ‘you guys’ with terms such as ‘your organization’ or ‘your team’ or simply ‘you.’”

Moving Forward…

Although you may know all the wrong things to say, actually cutting them out of your vocabulary is your next task, and a much harder one at that. Keep a conscious mind every time you speak and aim to always make your words hold value.  

Try recording yourself during meetings, phone calls, and other conversations to hear how you sound to others. Notice your word choices. Were any of them from the list above? Or similar in nature? 

Don’t be afraid to trust a colleague for their help. Ask them to listen to your language and point out to you when you use negative or limiting language during office conversations or important presentations. You’d be surprised what another set of ears can do for you. 

Here at Knowted, we pride ourselves as a leading professional development company. From small word choices to large career decisions, we want to help you and your organization grow. Give us a call today!

Re-Humanizing The Workplace

Professional development engagements designed to provide practical skills that enhance personal and work performance.

Schedule a Consultation