10 Words and Phrases to Remove from Your Leadership Lexicon

Nothing can be accomplished well without excellent communication. Avoiding these ten words and phrases can help you communicate better and be a better leader.

Communication is a leader’s best tactic for setting expectations, providing recognition, clarifying progress to goals, sustaining an ethos, building relationships, creating alignment, removing barriers, honoring inclusion, etc. Truly the list is as long as a leader’s responsibilities. However, nothing can be accomplished well without excellent communication. To launch leaders into a productive 2021, I culled this top ten list from The Words We Choose: Your Guide to How and Why Words Matter. A commitment to not saying these words and phrases is a commitment to improving how you communicate, how you represent yourself, and how you will excel as a leader in 2021.

These are the words and/or phrases to remove in 2021

10. You don’t understand 

There was plenty to not understand in 2020. Offering this statement positions you as omniscient, which I presume you did not feel this past year. Even if it is not your intention to appear all-knowing, and you believe you do have a better understanding than the other person, this approach limits you. It limits you from accessing the perspective of the other person and it limits the perception of your openness. You can support what you “understand” in a more collaborative manner. Try inviting perspective with an approach such as this …“I have some information on that, what are your thoughts?”

9. There’s nothing I can do about it 

Resilience is founded in positivity and a focus on what one can control. There is always something “you can do about it.” You can start by reframing the situation. In sales we say, there is no such thing as “no” to the customer, there are variations on “yes.” This same principle applies with messaging to your team. Focus on what you can do and inform as to why this is the case. Highlight the value, the positives, the learning. When you choose this phrase, you are abandoning ownership and therefore leadership. You are choosing the stance of the victim and potentially creating a we/they dynamic if you blame the lack of control on others. Double back to the decision-maker if you need more clarity before reframing to what you “can do about it.”

8. But 

“But” is the grand truncator in communication. Regardless of what comes before this word, the topic is severed, and the message is derailed. It may not seem like that in everyday conversation until you begin to focus on when you can replace “but” with a better joiner. “And” is the primary replacement. It forces you to frame the second part of your message in the positive. While “but” suggests a consolation (“but we can do this”), “and” offers additional information, the ability to join ideas and reframe collaboratively. Think of “and” as the glue that adheres ideas together, and “but” as the scissors that cut them up.

7. Pretty 

I bet you did not see this one coming. This is not a reference to the #metoo movement. “Pretty” as an adverb diminishes your message and is entirely unnecessary. “I’m pretty sure we will hit that goal.” If you are unsure, you are better served to clarify the degree of uncertainty, as “pretty” does not support your certainty in any meaningful way. Try, “I’m more than 50% sure” or “I’m 75% sure.” As you can see, there are endless ways for you to own your position better than qualifying it with “pretty.”

6. Might 

Will you, or won’t you? People look to leaders for clarity and accountability. Offering the word “might” in your messaging does not provide either. “We might be able to do that” is better stated as “We will be able to do that when we know….” This leads you to highlight the gap – what is missing. There are times that this word is the best option, and it should be used intentionally in those cases.

5. Should 

“Should” falls in the same lack of clarity bucket as “might.” The listener is more interested in what can be accomplished, and in your commitment and confidence. Choosing words such as “should” or ‘might” lessens the perception of capability and ownership. Think: “can we/I, or can’t we/I”, or “we can when…” and shake the “shoulds” to elevate your commitment.

4. Enough 

“Enough” is similar to the glass being half empty or having “enough” water in it. The use of this word limits potential and screams a lack of clarity. What exactly does “enough” define or equal? “This will be enough.” “We need to create enough exposure to…” While the definition of enough is that “it satisfies” or “is sufficient,” leaders are expected to provide clarity and challenge assumptions. Choosing words that more accurately reflect “sufficiency” to replace your use of “enough” creates a more precise message. Doing so also limits assumptions, as there may be varying beliefs of what constitutes “enough.”

3. Just 

“Just” is the great minimizer when used as an adverb, meaning barely, only, simply. Particularly when referring to a person or their position. Although a person may offer this adverb from a place of humility, the message suggests a lack of confidence and possibly low self-esteem. No one is “just” anything – everyone is a contributor in some manner and to be celebrated for their contribution. Removing “just” is a start as it brings no value to the description of the person or position and only serves to minimize. Replacing “just” is even better. Replace “just” with adverbs or adjectives that truly represent the person or position you are discussing. “LaShronda is our phenomenal assistant manager.” “I am a licensed dietician.” See the difference?

2. Think 

Leaders are not expected to know everything. However, a consistent use of the word “think” may suggest a lack of knowledge, ownership, or confidence. “I think we will make our goals.” “I think that is the best approach.” More specific messaging provides clarity and suggests you are confident. If “think” feels right from the perspective of inviting inclusivity, then clarify by sharing why. (“I think this is the best approach because it allows us to reach more people – what are your thoughts?”) Watch for the random insertion of “I think” in your statements. Most of the time you can remove “I think” and proceed with a statement that is clear and confident. Examples: I think this article will be helpful. I think our team is going to hit it out of the park.

Drumroll, please. As we enter 2021, the most important word to remove from your leadership lexicon is…

1. If 

“If’ casts doubt and represents vagueness. It is easily replaced with “when” in most circumstances. Think: “not if, but when.” We have collectively navigated an extraordinary year. Everyone benefits from the perspective of “when” something will happen – a place of confidence, belief, hope. Leaders serve their teams well when they speak in hopeful, inspiring terms – “when” is one of them (in this context). I challenge you to pause every time you are inclined to offer “if” in a message and insert “when” with a sense of confidence fully supported by your purpose. If When we all adopt this approach, we will find ourselves charting the course for smoother waters in 2021.

Eliminating these words and phrases in the New Year will help to positively position leaders and lead to powerful statements of ownership and commitment throughout the year. Isn’t that what businesses need today? – leaders who stand out and make a difference.

About the Author

Terre Short has more than 30 years of leadership experience, a Masters in Business Administration/Healthcare Management, her Professional Coach Certification (PCC), and is a Certified Patient Experience Professional (CPXP). She is the author of The Words We Choose: Your Guide to How and Why Words Matter. Visit her at ShortGroup.net


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