Words That Are Sabotaging Your Work Confidence (And What To Say Instead)

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Lisa Callahan is the leading lady behind The LC Studio, an Austin-based lifestyle blog for professional and productive women. She has a love affair with all things career and believes the term “workaholic” is the best compliment. Some of her most popular content includes sleek and chic business wear, optimized home office design and college and career how-to's.

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Work politics, much like real politics, is based on image. The words you use around your boss, your office manager and even your best work friends may seem insignificant, but every experienced girl boss knows that isn’t true. What you say has a direct implication on how your co-workers see you, and, more importantly, how you see yourself.

It’s not uncommon for women in particular to use self-sabotaging language at work, and our biology is likely to blame. Most sources agree that the men and women have played pretty opposite roles in social settings throughout human history, causing us to act differently in the modern working world. Men are more assertive, authoritarian and goal-oriented, while women are more passive, collaborative and people-oriented.

Our tendency to be people-pleasers, though, sometimes means we lose touch of our own identity. We don’t acknowledge our strengths. We don’t work on our weaknesses. We don’t strive to be the best leaders, team members, and employees we can be. We stop acting like strong, capable women, so we stop feeling like strong capable women, and the people we work with stop treating us with the respect we deserve. It’s a vicious cycle that no working gal should endure. Luckily, we don’t have to.

By making small, positive changes to your regular office vocab, you can rediscover feelings of confidence, competence and control in your career. Ready to get your groove back?

3 Yucky, Useless, No-good Words to Stop Saying at Work... Like, Today:

“JUST”

What it says: The word “just” is a variation of the word “justification,” and that’s exactly what it acts as in normal workplace speech. “Just” is a cushion word we use to soften something that we otherwise feel is too assertive. We don’t want to seem like know-it-alls, so we say we “just have an idea.” We don’t want to look entitled, so we insist we’re “just wondering” if a raise is in store. We don’t want to seem bossy, or stupid, or bratty, or weak, so we tone down our true thoughts and let “just” do the talking. It’s a defensive tactic, really, but it doesn’t actually protect us at the end of the day. If anything, the people we work with will start to treat us as the exact type of person we don’t want to be. Your colleagues won’t give you the time of day when you say you “just have an idea.” Your boss won’t take you seriously if you’re “just wondering” about a raise. You won’t be trusted with leadership roles, new clients or big projects... because you’re just the girl who makes excuses, not the one who gets things done.

What it does: When we consistently feel the need to justify everything we do, we pretty quickly start to feel like nothing we do is good enough. That kind of self-doubt puts us in an endless loop of negativity, and it goes without saying that negativity is a barrier to successful work.

What to say instead: Just don’t “just.” It’s pretty simple. The statements you make to your colleagues, boss, and clients become instantly more powerful when “just” is removed. Practice makes perfect, so work on eliminating this word from your vocab one day at a time.

“MISUNDERSTOOD”

What it says: Miscommunication is common in a work setting, and the way you handle it speaks volumes about your work self-esteem. You probably feel obligated to explain yourself to your boss or colleagues when you unintentionally screw up; You owe them that much, right? As genuine as your intentions may be, using “misunderstanding” as an explanation for fault can often backfire. Your colleagues may begin to doubt how well you actually understand what your job, your company and your industry are all about. “Why did she misunderstand?” they may ask. Do you not know industry terminology? Were you afraid to ask questions when the task was assigned to you? Or were you not even listening?

What it does: By falling back on “misunderstandings,” you forfeit responsibility for your actions. That may save you some face in the moment, but it’s going to impede your progress as a working adult over time. You won’t learn to recognize the real reasoning behind your actions, and you won’t learn how to articulate what that reasoning was. Maybe worst of all, you won’t pursue growth opportunities in the company, because you’ve conditioned yourself to think that certain levels of thinking are beyond your comprehension.

What to say instead: Take a step up from saying you “misunderstood” something, and instead say what you misunderstood. By doing this, you skip the very unnecessary (and kind of humiliating) part when you flat out admit you went wrong. Whoever you’re talking to probably already knows you screwed up, so save you both some time and get to the point: What caused the error, how will you fix it, and how will you avoid doing it again?

"CAN"

What it says: Much like “try,” the word “can” implies a failure to commit. When you say you “can” or “could” do something, you’re inadvertently communicating to your colleagues that you have a hard time making decisions. Because “can” statements are so vague, people may be unsure of how to respond, or whether they should respond at all. When you say, “I can look into this more,” for example, are you expecting a response? Do you want permission? Do you want validation? Do you want recognition?

What it does: When you use the word “can” to describe a future action, what you’re really doing is asking for reassurance from someone else. Maybe it’s your boss. Maybe it’s your work crush, your work ex, or your frenemy. Regardless, relying on someone else to give you the green light on every project forces you into a permanent state of inferiority. You won’t explore your full potential, because you won’t know how to work alone.

What to say instead: Replace the unsure “can” statement with the self-assured “will” statement. Not only will your boss appreciate your eagerness to get things done, but you’ll start to feel more able to get things done. On your own. On budget. On time. And when you feel capable of great things, you’re pretty much unstoppable.

When you remove these negative words from your vocab, you’ll be amazed how soon you start to feel like the girl boss you really are. And others will start to take notice, too. Not long from now, you won’t be the one “just asking” your boss about a raise or promotion; They’ll be the one coming to you.

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