If you’ve been out in the working world for any amount of time, you’ve probably prefaced a question to your higher-ups by saying that it’s “probably stupid,” and you’re certainly not alone.
We all have great ideas, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t communicate them with confidence. And our bosses are human, too. They might not cover every single bullet point in every single meeting, so it’s on us to ask questions! There’s nothing wrong with that. If you feel like your workplace confidence could use a boost, here are a few words, phrases, and speech habits you should totally avoid using in the office.
1. Unless you’re asking your boss about their opinion on string theory during a marketing meeting, your question probably isn’t stupid. There’s absolutely no way to remember everything your higher-ups have ever said, so ask for clarification when you need it! It’ll help you perform to the best of your ability, and that’s better for everyone involved.
2. This speech pattern is often associated with Valley Girls, but according to the BBC, both men and women are increasingly guilty of finishing statements with questions in the workplace. It’s probably in an effort to sound relatable, but it ends up reading as insecure. Don’t say, “This positioning would work better on Facebook, you know?” Just make your point, be secure in your response, and keep it moving. Try not to sound like you’re seeking approval.
3. If you walk by your boss and accidentally smack her in the back of the head, say you’re sorry. If you’re sending her an email asking to use some paid time off, don’t. Don’t be “sorry” for “bothering” your bosses! Part of their job is making sure that all of their employees are good to go. You’re fine.
4. Being met with silence after making a statement can be intimidating, but let that silence work in your favor. Instead of blathering on incessantly until your coworker adds their input, let them sit with your ideas for a second. Doing so is a non-verbal way of saying, “I got this, and you’ll get it, too.” (But if the blank stares persist for more than a few minutes, step back in.)
5. When it comes to sounding authoritative, this common phrase is a killer. Clients don’t want to hear that you think you can help them. Your boss doesn’t want to hear that you think you can nail that big presentation. You know what you’re doing, so make sure you convey that as clearly as possible.
6. This one is tricky in an increasingly digital world. If you communicate with coworkers via email or through chat services like Slack, it’s tempting to use exclamation points and smiley faces to convey enthusiasm for fear of sounding cold. And this, my friends, is something of which I’m guilty as charged. If you’re still around and getting your work done, your managers like you. Don’t worry so much about coming across as a big ol’ bubble of enthusiasm. (Duly noted, me.)
7. Please, please stop saying “synergy.” Please. If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, don’t use any words or phrases that make you sound like you’re resting on verbal standbys. Don’t call a potential client “low-hanging fruit,” and quit telling people how things are “at the end of the day.” The more original you sound, the more worthwhile your ideas will appear to anyone listening.
8. If any of your coworkers need you to elaborate an idea, they’ll ask (preferably without doing the whole “this might sound stupid” thing). Talk through your thoughts without sounding like you’re second guessing yourself. If you don’t sound confident in your ideas, don’t expect anyone else to get on board.
9. Just do it. Constantly making lateral moves at work isn’t going to help you grow, so approach each new task as a learning opportunity. Are you a Photoshop novice? Let YouTubers be your guides. Never put together an office newsletter? Google some formatting tips. Learning on your feet is a skill in itself. If you really can’t figure it out, just be upfront about it and go from there.
10. Ironically, this phrase will inspire approximately zero people to trust you. Remember that confidence and arrogance are not one in the same. Instead of leaving your coworkers hanging, spend time articulating exactly why they should place their faith in you. Knowing what you’re talking about will make you come off as secure, not cocky.
Although we all feel insecure at work sometimes, projecting self-assuredness helps everyone, yourself included, feel better about how things are going. You can do it!