Good leaders spend a fair amount of time refining their communication style. After all, good communication skills are not only among the most in-demand soft skills; they’re also essential for fostering strong relationships with team members, being a more effective negotiator, and being able to motivate people.
So, the words you use matter. And simple verbal habits or tics can actually get in the way of clear communication. But some of the things we say can improve how we are perceived as well. Saying “sorry” too much and for the wrong reasons might undermine how confident you appear. Shifting your response from “sorry for the delay” to “thanks for your patience” strikes a more positive tone, too.
Another example that we’ve covered before at Fast Company is the word “but,” which can seem like you’re negating the point of the person with whom you’re speaking. Instead, try substituting “and,” which invites further conversation.
What other communication swaps can you make to be a more powerful communicator? Here, three communication experts weigh in with their recommendations for language swaps. They may not work in every situation. But, when used appropriately, they can help shift your communication to be more powerful.
Here’s what I can do for you
“Rather than saying ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not able to,’ when you’re declining a request, focus on the positive,” says communication expert Renée Evenson, author of Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service. Instead try, “Here’s what I can do for you.” That way, you’ve set a boundary with your client or colleague about what you’re not able or willing to do, but you’ve also indicated that you’re willing to find a workable solution.
I’ll find out
When you don’t know something, it’s usually a good idea to say so instead of bluffing. However, if you’re in a leadership position or dealing with customers, the people asking are going to want more than that from you. Instead of just shrugging off the inquiry, say “I’ll find out for you,” Evenson suggests. “This gives [the person asking] an assurance that you care enough to go one step further to get the right answer,” she says.
Can you . . .
It’s not uncommon to preface a favor request with “I know how busy you are . . .” or “I hate to bother you . . .” But that immediately puts you at a disadvantage because you’ve assumed that you’re creating a burden. Instead, assume there is not a problem and drop this from your language, says communication expert Linda Larsen, author of True Power: Get It, Use It, Share It. Just ask for what you need and assume that the person will let you know if the request is too much and respectfully decline.
Let’s solve this
In a world filled with vague, wishy-washy words, “address” is one that public speaking coach Joel Schwartzberg would like to see dropped. “I see a lot of speakers say, we’re going to address this issue. What does that mean? That means they can write about it, talk about it, have dialogue, right? But that doesn’t specifically mean you’re going to solve that problem or take action,” says the author of Get to the Point: Sharpen Your Ideas and Make Your Words Matter. Instead of saying, “We’re going to address this situation . . . ” try words like solve, fight against, or reduce, which communicate action. Other swaps to consider that are more meaningful and decisive:
- Instead of “allowed,” try enabled or authorized
- Instead of “meeting” a goal or expectation, try accomplishing or exceeding
- Instead of “reacting to” a situation, try responding or solving
I’m glad you like it
For some people, dismissing praise is a knee-jerk response. If they receive a compliment, they water it down by saying, “It was nothing . . .” or “It could be better . . .” Those responses not only make light of your work and ability, but they are dismissive of the person giving the compliment. Instead, thank the individual genuinely and add, “I’m glad you like it,” Larsen says.
I want to help
Telling someone to calm down is almost a guarantee that they will do anything but calm down. Larsen recommends validating the individual’s feelings and assuring them you understand. “I can see you are upset, and I want to help” is a better option.
I’m happy I was able to help
There’s nothing wrong with saying “you’re welcome” when someone thanks you. But saying something like “I’m happy I was able to help you” is more powerful because it leaves a positive impression with the individual that you went the extra mile to help, Evenson says.
While simple shifts in language won’t solve all communication issues, being more precise and action-oriented in your language can make a difference in clarity and how you’re perceived.