10 Phrases That Make You Sound Less Confident

Confidence is a key component of success, and part of building and maintaining confidence is looking for the little things that may be undermining it every day.

One place to look carefully is the language you use. Words have power–they send a message about who you are. Here are some words to watch out for.

If you find them in your writing (especially email, where we’re often more casual), in your speech, even in your thoughts, take a careful look and make sure you aren’t harming your own confidence.

1. Won’t. The word won’t often sounds like defeat. At best it sounds negative; at worst it carries an assumption that you’re locked into a single response and unwilling to try other solutions. Focus on the positive as much as possible. Instead of “I won’t do this,” try “I’m willing to try this out.” Instead of “It won’t work,” say “Let’s work through these concerns.”

2. Maybe. An ambivalent word, maybe shows a lack of commitment, intention, and direction. You may be intending it to express uncertainty about a specific thing, but it’s likely to be interpreted more broadly, as a reflection of your character. Be confident in your responses, even if you can’t fully say yes or no. Try “I’d like to see more details first.”

3. Sorry. Do you find yourself saying sorry when an apology is not even warranted? Do you open requests for information or resources with “I’m sorry, but…”? Say what you have to say and ask for what you want without apologizing. If you’ve messed up or something terrible has happened, sorry is perfectly appropriate, so say it and mean it. The rest of the time, cut it out.

4. Like. Some words are so woven into the everyday vernacular that we use them without even being aware of it. But once you have like on your radar, it’s seriously distracting. It waters down your message, making you sound less serious and confident.

5. Just. Much like like, just is often used reflexively and unconsciously. It’s a qualifier that makes you sound unsure of yourself and tentative, almost apologetic: “I just want to check….” “I’m just concerned….” It’s very often seen in email, so watch for it there and elsewhere.

6. Actually. It kind of makes for a know-it-all tone, but the effect is (would you be tempted to use actually here?) to make you sound less smart and more insecure. Another frequent placeholder that you’d do well to get rid of.

7. Usually. Depending on the context, usually may be sending the message that you’re fine with things as they are and resistant to change: “We don’t usually do it that way.” It often comes across as being lazy or lacking energy. A good replacement is a phrase involving let’s, like “Let’s give it a try” or “Let’s see if we can make this work,” to convey confidence and openness to change.

8. Impossible. Where can you go after you say impossible? It’s a word that closes all the doors and throws away the keys. It’s definitely a strong statement, but less in strength and more in defeat.

9. Confused. To admit to confusion is far from confident. Whatever the origin of the confusion, it sounds like you’re not capable of understanding . Communicate the same concept as “I’m confused” without the baggage by saying “I need more information” or “Can you clarify this point?”

10. Hopefully. “Hopefully I’ll be able to get it done.” It’s a perfect way to communicate that you feel powerless, passive, and somewhat unreliable. If you need to put conditions on a commitment, state what they are plainly instead of waffling: “As long as the third quarter reports get to us on time, I’ll be able to get it done.”

More often than not, it’s the things we say without even thinking that undermine us. Listen to yourself or ask a trusted friend to clue you in on the words and phrases you may be overusing. Make sure your language is intentional and confident, and you’ll be perceived as powerful and capable.


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What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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