24 Words and Phrases That Make You Sound Boring and Turn People Off
Try to avoid these overused and uninspiring words and expressions.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Every business sector has jargon. It's largely known that you shouldn't use those terms much outside of that field or people won't know what you are talking about. Beyond jargon, there are other things that people should not say if they want to reach their potential. The things we say can have a profound impact not only on those we say them to but also to ourselves.
The meeting that made my blood boil
Do you remember the moment you knew you were destined to be a successful entrepreneur? For me, it was when I was in what I call the cliché meeting.
I walked into a meeting, grabbed my cup of coffee, and looked around at my teammates. The boss wandered in and said, "All right everybody, we have to start thinking outside the box."
I thought, "The 80s called, and they want their mantra back."
Yes, I knew that I could communicate with more meaning than he, so my mind drifted away as I counted his catchphrases and clichés. At the end of the meeting, he said, "Thank you in advance and good luck!"
I felt my stomach roil. I was successful at holding it in. But I did blurt out, "Luck has nothing to do with it."
I couldn't hide my feeling of insult on that one. My team members thanked me all day for coming to the defense of their skills. I never let on that my remarks were due to my lack of control. Empty phrases make me angry; I expect better from leaders.
Words make a difference
Smart people avoid saying the wrong thing to their teams. Highly successful people know they just have to open their minds and consider the purpose behind their words. A little thought before we speak will make our words have more meaning. Plus, it will make us sound smarter.
Avoid entering a conversation unless you understand what others intend to take away from the interaction. I look for what I call the "unifying vision" of everyone in the room. Once you understand the purpose that binds everyone in the conversation together, you will be able to focus on the content of the conversation. Armed with understanding, you will be less likely to say something detrimental because you will be in a focused place. You will be present.
Words and phrases to avoid
The following phrases are ones that detract from our ability to make a point, our desire to continue a productive dialogue or that may simply offend or insult the listener.
"I'm just saying." This phrase is the ultimate cop-out. No matter how long you have spoken, no matter what you have said, you just reduced everything that you have offered as in "just words."
"I'm entitled to my opinion." Yes, you are. There's no doubt about it. You are entitled to have your own opinion, but conversations or discussions about fact or occurrence. When you voice your opinion, you surrender the ability to make your point, because you have placed everyone on a defensive saying that you are not budging, and the conversation will not move.
"I had no choice." We always have a choice. Even when someone says I had no choice; they made a choice. If you are involved in a meeting or discussion about that choice, you should be prepared to defend the choice rather than ask people to accept the summary conclusion as final.
"That's just my two cents." Without even knowing you, I assure you that your thoughts are worth more than two cents. Never minimize that which you have to say by putting the cliché low price on your words.
"I could care less." This is one of those phrases that will shut down a conversation. You do not like it when someone doesn't care about your thoughts, so don't throw down this gauntlet. Besides, the use of the double negative really means that you do care, but that is not what is heard because that is not what you meant.
"I, personally." Always been a pet peeve of mine because you are speaking it as you are personally speaking. We use this phrase to try to mask our feelings by saying this is what's in me. It is your personal feeling so simply say "I" and live with what you say.
"Like..." I don't imagine that this will ever leave our lexicon. It is used by people who are formulating thoughts and looking for something to say. While I guess it's better than "um," it sends a message that you don't know what to say next. Think about what you are going to say before your words are spoken. There is no harm in silent thought.
"I Hope…" Along with "I'll try," is one of those phrases that set a bad tone. Subconsciously you're telling people that you are surrendering control. It is a much stronger position to say, "I will." Do not give yourself a subconscious "out" or cast doubt on your ability to do what you say you were going to do.
"It's not my fault." The moment this comes out you are looking for someone else at whom all can point the finger of blame. Take ownership of the situation and explain the circumstances with sufficient detail that everyone else can make a determination that you are not to blame. And, if you are to blame, own that too, and present a solution.
"My bad." Okay, I just said take ownership. While this phrase does implicate that it is your fault. But it is a slang term that comes across as crass and a little street worthy. It does not come across as ownership because the frequency of the phrase in society makes the acceptance of blame seem sarcastic and trivial.
"I can't." If you say this with the meaning that you are not capable of doing something, it may be time for you to learn. But the reality is that when most people say, "I can't," what you are really saying is "I won't." Or, at least, that is what everyone else will hear. It just sends a very bad message, so get rid of it and don't say, "I can't get rid of it."
"It's not fair." Whether you like it or not, the moment this phrase leaves your mouth, everyone in the room will picture a three-year-old stomping on the floor and screaming. No one ever said that life was fair. It is much better to focus on the circumstances that you deem to be unfair and explain that there is a greater workload on you, that you are being forced to do something that is beyond your means, or whatever it is it is making you feel the unfairness.
"That's how we do it around here." Yep. That will put an end to innovation and improvement. It tells everyone around you that you are not open to suggestions and new ideas. No one will aspire to be you.
"Please advise." This phrase is a two-way street. It is bad when it's used by a manager and it's bad when it's used by a member of her team. If you are assigning someone to do something, then be specific about what you want. If you are receiving instructions from your manager and you reply with "Please Advise," pushing the responsibility back up the hill. These two words could be the most passive-aggressive words in any work environment.
"With all due respect." This is the ugly cousin of "No offense, but…" You might as just say, "I don't respect you and I don't like you, but I'm going to tell you what I'm about to say." You don't buffer disrespect by saying your buffering disrespect.
"That makes no sense." This will shut down the conversation because it either says that you don't understand, or the other person is not making sense therefore, the negative connotation is that someone is… dare I say, stupid. Identify what doesn't make sense and incorporate that into a question so the discussion may continue.
"Let's not reinvent the wheel." Face reality, the wheel has been re-invented thousands of times since it was first carved by a caveman. Every advancement in our society is the result of a reinvention of something somewhere. Sometimes those reinventions are bad, sometimes the reinvention is phenomenal. This phrase pre-judges every idea as bad. That presupposition will destroy innovation in its infancy.
"It is what it is." I got to be honest. I don't even know what this means. It is a trite trivial cliché that has survived far too long in society. It pretty much means… no, who am I kidding it doesn't mean anything. It just turns people off.
"Let's take this offline." Yes, this is a cool line because it came into being during the Internet era. It sounds like you're really hip. But it also sends as a message to everyone else in the room that something is going to happen that they are not going to be a part of it. If you want to talk to someone about something that doesn't involve everyone else, make that clear.
"I hear you." I was once asked, "What is the opposite of speaking?" I said, "listening." My inquisitor admonished that the opposite of speaking was waiting to speak. Listening was a completely separate function. You could hear people without listening to them. It means you are ready to speak. You heard their "noise" and now it's your turn. That is an unconscious conversation stopper.
"Disrupt." When one invokes the phrase "disrupt," it sounds cool, hip and rebellious all at the same time. While it is popular in modern culture, it sounds like change for the benefit of change without consideration of the outcome. To disrupt something is to interrupt by disturbance or drastically alter or destroy the structure of something. Pursuing a new vision is positive. But, apparently, "disrupting with a positive purpose" just doesn't sound cool.
"New Normal." This phrase used to be used effectively to describe a newly restructured business, or someone's life after the loss of a loved one. The phrase is one that was originally intended to describe a permanent new existence. Recently, over the past few years, during the 2020 pandemic, it has been bandied about in various ways to prematurely. The future is not cast in stone. Accepting a norm too early is a concession.
"But..." when you were discussing something and all of a sudden you throw out a "but," it sends a message that you are about to get to a point in your discussion that will negate everything that you have said previously. People will focus on that word, forget everything that came before, and the negative that follows the word will stay with your audience.
"To be honest." Does this mean that everything you have said prior to this statement has been a lie? If everything that you have said has been true, there is no reason to insert the phrase to be honest into a discussion. Whether you intend it or not, it causes people to wonder if you have been truthful the whole time.
The old adage applies, "Say what you mean and mean what you say." Peppering your conversation with catchphrases, clichés and copouts will not further dialogue or create clear understanding. Consider dumping the useless phases that clutter a discussion. You will maximize the impact of every word you speak, and you will sound more successful in doing it.
Author, business coach, lawyer, mentalist and motivational speaker Joe Curcillo helps companies to thrive by focusing on the idea of having a unifying vision. For more information, visit The Mind Shark.