Tentative Language and Verbal Mistakes Can Cost You

By Lou Solomon

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Researchers believe that the oldest spoken language is Mayan, which was around seven thousand years ago when the Maya migrated into Mexico. Imagine… over 7,000 years, we’ve progressed all the way to: “I was like, really?”

There is an infinite number of people who, down through the ages and on the planet today, have used their language in ways that inspire, encourage, enlighten, educate, heal, advocate, and love.

Unfortunately, just as many of us are using the same words we said yesterday and the day before. We have lazy habits and make noncommittal statements.

Tentative language, for example, is to speak with hesitancy, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence in what we’re saying.

Red flag words are: think, might, could, possibly, probably, sort of, kind of, and maybe.

For Example: 

  • We might plan to gather the team sometime this year.
  • One way to possibly solve this problem is to consider canceling.
  • I think we might pass on this opportunity.

Use Declarative Statements to Avoid Tentative Language

Early in my career in broadcasting, I struggled to speak up in meetings. I found myself in meetings with executives who were more experienced, and often I was the only woman.

Either I’d wait for my turn to speak, or when I did talk, I’d be interrupted. I used setups such as, “This is just an idea, but…” instead of “Of the options we have, the one that makes sense is…”.

Over the years, I became more assertive. I stopped starting sentences with “I think” or “Maybe we should…” Instead, I’d say, “In my experience…”. When you speak from your own experience, you are a resource in the conversation, not someone tossing in thoughts.

For Example:

  • Here’s the situation; here are the options
  • A trend I’m noticing
  • Here’s what I know
  • I believe…
  • Here’s my experience
  • What’s important here is
  • Our primary commitment is to the customer
  • Here’s our challenge

Tentative Language is Lazy Language

When you speak with intention, you are present. Let’s take inventory of the verbal habits that can hinder your presence.

Like: “I was like…” or “She was like…” “And then he was like….” The word “like” is beyond casual and clunky. It gets in the way of your credibility.

Wimpy Words: We cannot be “kind of” passionate, promise to be there “hopefully,” or “try” to create something powerful. When we say bold things, they deserve to stand on their own. You are either all in or not at all.

two people speaking one is using tentative language the other is using clear confident laguageFiller Sounds and Words: To keep from allowing a moment of silence, we connect our words with filler sounds: ah, um, uh, er. Filler words come next: like, so, you know, and, I mean, okay. How do you counteract the fillers? Practicing pausing. A pause is a period at the end of a sentence.

Empty-Calorie Words: Words like very, really, actually, seriously, totally, basically, and absolutely don’t mean anything.

Requesting Confirmation: We seek confirmation with tag words and phrases such as: “Right? Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense?” We are looking for head nods.

Misplaced Modesty: When it’s time to stand up and be the center of attention, don’t say, “I don’t like talking about myself.” Share something your life has taught you that will bring value to others.

“Really?”: This is an all-purpose complaint that, when overused, sounds like whining. Try making an interesting observation instead.

Discounting Yourself: “This is probably a dumb question but; “I’m sure you’ve thought of this before,” and “This is a crazy idea….”

Drawing Suspicion: There is no good reason to use “Trust me” or “If I’m being honest,” but we still do. Both make you sound untrustworthy.

Worn-Out Buzz Phrases

We can’t help picking up buzz phrases, but surely we can choose more interesting words than these:

  • At the end of the day
  • Do you have the bandwidth?
  • Low hanging fruit
  • Bring your ‘A’ game
  • Synergy
  • Sweet spot
  • Lipstick on a pig
  • Think outside the box
  • 800-Pound Gorilla

We can create good or bad energy with our words. Everyone will tell you that they know this is true, but very few of us live as though we know it. We’re so busy being busy that we forget to participate in the creative process sewn into our words.

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