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Avoid These 6 Phrases When Trying to Sound, and Feel, More Assertive

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Ever have someone say to you, “Wow, you really sound like an expert!” only to think to yourself that you just BS’d your way through the entire conversation? Sometimes it’s necessary (the technical term is “sales”), but more often than not, how you say something is just as important as what you say -- if not more.

It’s easy to take for granted the terms of speech we use every day, but language has meaning. Words have meaning. Phrases have meaning. If I say that I think I can make the airport in time, then that connotes an entirely different sense than saying I know I can make the airport in time. Which phrase would you rather hear if you were waiting at the airport for a passenger pickup?

Related: You'll Never Hear Successful People Say These 15 Phrases

The words you choose to use or omit communicate just how confident, self-assured or optimistic you feel. Consider the following words in your everyday speech and how their associated meanings influence you, the listener and the conversation for better or worse:

1. “I guess” 

You guess? You guess? What does that even mean? Well, I’ll tell you what it means to guess. Hearing “I guess” connotes weakness, a lack of clarity and disempowerment, and is right up there at the top of the “do not use” list next to “maybe.” Avoid saying "I guess" if you want to sound more assertive.

2. “Can’t” 

This is a typical replacement for “won’t,” however each connotes entirely different degrees of power and proactivity.

3. “Supposed to" 

When you hear somebody say that he or she was supposed to do [insert chore here] but didn't, what he or she really meant was that they had the best of intentions but some mysterious, outside influence compelled them to act otherwise. First, see “can’t” above. Then, replace “supposed to” with “I will” or “I intend,” as these convey a firm, positive perspective.

Related: 2 Phrases You Must Eliminate From Your Vocabulary Immediately

4. “But”

Generally speaking, inserting a but (the conjunction, not the noun) into a conversation immediately creates a dividing line between parties as it completely refutes the argument or word before it. Try using “and” instead. "And" serves as a bridge between people in the conversation because you now generate a cooperative reality as opposed to a conflicting one.

5. “I think”

When used to indicate a preplanned motive such as, “I think I’ll go to [X],” there’s an abstractness of intention that neglects any indication of commitment. In other words, to think is to consider doing something and not fully commit to it (do you like how I substituted “and” for “but” right there?). Try using “I believe” to assert your intention(s) if you want to sound more assertive.

6. “Don’t”

Anything that negates or immediately focuses on the negative has less than ideal side effects. After all, who doesn’t like hearing positive talk? Instead of saying something like, “I don’t like [insert pet peeve here]” try saying, “I prefer [the opposite of the pet peeve] please.” This way, you’ve not only spoken to the positive but also affirmed yourself and your position (not to mention the fact that nobody likes being told what to do).

The quality of your conversations is indicative of the quality of your relationships, as the words you choose reflect the person you are. Choose words that count.

Related: 10 Phrases That Need to Be Banned From the Office

Jeff Boss

Written By

Jeff Boss is the author of two books, team leadership coach and former 13-year Navy SEAL where his top awards included four Bronze Stars with valor and two Purple Hearts. Visit him online at www.jeff-boss.com