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by Isabel Sperry | July 19, 2017


two women reviewing work at desk next to window

The way you speak and write at work can have a significant impact on how your colleagues and clients perceive you. Many employees, especially women, unintentionally use jargon that undermines their credibility and authority. Here, we’ve compiled five phrases you should stop using at work, along with replacements that will make you appear confident and capable.

1. “Just”

This word subtly destabilizes your authority. It might seem that “just” softens the blow of a request—i.e. “I was just wondering,”—but in fact, it trivializes your question. You don’t have to justify why you’re asking a question when it’s part of your job to do so. And when you’re stating facts—i.e. “I just wanted to let you know”—there’s definitely no need to use “just.” It makes you seem apologetic for sharing information and implies that what you’re saying is unimportant and needs rationalizing. You’ll find that if you remove “just” from just about any sentence, your speech will sound more assured and intentional.

2. “Sorry”

Unless you’re apologizing for a mistake you made or offering your condolences, there’s no need to say “sorry” in the office. Many people fall into the trap of prefacing requests with an apology, which assumes that they’re inconveniencing other people, i.e. “Sorry if I’m bugging you.” You never need to apologize for doing your job. The word “sorry” minimizes the strength of your statements, so only use it appropriately, when you really mean it.

3. “I’m not sure, but…”

Here’s a secret—unless they’re stating a well-known fact, most people are “not sure” about the accuracy of what they say, since they’re offering opinions and ideas. Calling attention to your uncertainty on a matter will make others question you, often unnecessarily. Phrases such as “I’m not sure,” “I might be wrong,” or “I’m no expert, but…” plant the idea that you’re uncertain or even incorrect on a matter. Unless you’re referring to a fact, there’s no need to indicate that your ideas might be wrong. Furthermore, if you’re not even confident about your ideas, then you can’t expect other people to be. You can easily change the tune of “I’m not sure” from negative to positive—“I’m not sure, but I thought we closed 52 deals last quarter” to “I’m pretty sure we closed 52 deals last quarter”—and sound much more convincing.

4. “Does that make sense?”

You might be tempted to ask this question after you explain a new idea or even a complex process to someone. But in making this preemptive inquiry, you draw into question your own ability to make sense. Instead, after explaining something, you should wait for others to ask you questions—which will probably be about the specifics of your idea, rather than whether you’re making sense or not. If you really want to check in with your audience and open the floor for discussion, try a follow-up statement such as, “I look forward to hearing your questions or ideas on the matter.”

5. “This might be a stupid question…”

As the old adage goes, “There are no stupid questions.” You don’t need to include a disclaimer before asking a question, and you definitely don’t need to insinuate that your thoughts are stupid. When you use phrases like this that diminish the power of your thoughts, you set yourself up for rejection. Aim to eliminate these delegitimizing phrases from your vocabulary and replace them with decisive, confident statements. By changing the way you speak in the office, you can change how others perceive you and even how you perceive yourself.