Four Types Of Words That Are Unintentionally Damaging Your Credibility

Words like “maybe” and “just” may seem harmless, but using certain types of words can change the way you’re perceived.

Four Types Of Words That Are Unintentionally Damaging Your Credibility
[Photo: Caspar Benson/Getty Images]

You have the title, the expertise, and the know-how, but the way you speak may be the one thing that stands in your way of success. Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of Talking From 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work, says by paying attention to the words we use when speaking with others at the office, we can boost our credibility.


Here are the top credibility-destroying words and phrases, according to Tannen:

1. Hedge Words

Hedging words and phrases such as sort of, maybe, and kind of are often used when we’re trying not to say something outright. Rather than saying, “I’m certain,” for example, hedgers may say, “I’m pretty certain.”

Tannen says people often use hedge words because they don’t want to come across as being so authoritative, but these words can damage your credibility, making you seem unsure about what you’re saying, like you’re plagued by self-doubt.

2. Words That Downgrade Meaning

Throwing words such as just into a sentence–“I just want to say . . . ”–downgrades the importance of what you’re about to say. “It’s minimizing the imposition of you saying it,” says Tannen.

3. Filler Words

Unless you’re a professional speaker, it’s likely that you commonly fill your sentences with filler words such as um and er. “When we’re thinking and organizing our thoughts, we feel that we should fill the space with something,” says Tannen.

We all have an impulse to fill in gaps when we’re speaking, Tannen says, but using too many of these ums and ers can make it seem like you’re trying too hard to find the words to explain your point, and give the impression that you lack confidence in what you’re saying. Simply pausing to gather your thoughts will make you sound more authoritative than a string of filler words.


4. Apologetic Words

Tannen says we need to stop apologizing before making a point: “I’m sorry, but you’re late for the meeting again.” Apologizing hurts your credibility and gives the listener a reason to disregard what you’re saying. Plus, it puts your audience in a position of power, unfairly tipping the authoritative scales in its favor.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction.