Nine Common Words Leaders Should Stop Using (And What To Say Instead)

When you spend time in the business leadership world, you start to hear a lot of cliché phrases and vague terms that other managers frequently use. Sometimes they use them to sound smart; other times, they’re just not sure of a better alternative. Either way, these overused words begin to sound like jargon over time, and may lose their meaning when you’re communicating with your staff.

We asked nine members of Young Entrepreneur Council to each share one word leaders often use, but shouldn’t. Here are some key words and phrases to avoid as a manager, along with a few suggested terms to use instead.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Obviously

I don’t think anyone should be using this word—leaders or any team members. But it is used all the time. I myself find it easy to fall into the trap of using it. Most things aren’t obvious, or at least aren’t obvious to everyone (and if something is actually obvious, you wouldn’t need to waste energy stating it). So when you say “obviously,” you put people around you on the defensive, making them less likely to listen, absorb and productively respond to what you are saying. – Saloni Doshi, Eco Enclose, LLC

2. I Think

There’s no need to use “I think” in a statement. Not only does it diminish your authority, but the phrase is also often superfluous. “I think we should execute on this strategy” just isn’t as powerful as, “We should execute on this strategy.” Your tone can remain open and engaging by cutting out “I think” easily as well. We’ve trained our more junior team members to watch for words and phrases that discredit their opinions, particularly when they speak to the powerful CEOs and executives whom we work with. It’s incredible what a little editing of phrases such as “I think,” “I’m sorry” and “I just thought” can do to balance the power dynamic between “client” and “vendor.”  – Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications

3. Self-Made

Say “teamwork” instead. No one is an island. Thus, even so-called “self-made” people need other people to survive. For a company to be successful, people need to work and act together as one. No one can actually say they made themselves alone. We need family, friends and a team to survive and be successful. – Daisy Jing, Banish

4. None Of Your Business

Leaders should aim to be transparent and vulnerable with their employees in order to build trust. If employees ask a question that a leader isn’t comfortable answering, they should explain why that information is confidential, but give any insight that they can. Simply telling a team member that something is none of their business is never helpful. – Kelsey Raymond, Influence & Co.

5. Should

I’m a direct person with my team and feel that using the word “should” can be ambiguous and leave your team members wondering what you really meant. For example, if you say, “Don’t you think we should do that,” depending on the level of confidence the person has and their relationship with you, it will most likely lead them to just agree when they really don’t. I would simply say, “Let’s do X, because of Y. Do you agree or disagree and why?” – Jennifer A Barnes, Optima Office, Inc

6. Can’t

There will always be limitations of some sort, but the majority of the time, you shouldn’t say that you or your team “can’t” do something. You can use your creativity and the creativity of your team to come up with innovative ideas that take your business to the next level. The more you say you can’t do something, the more your team will think the same, and that undermines your collective progress. Instead, think of what you can do to succeed and go from there. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

7. Paradigm Shift

It drives me crazy whenever I hear a manager or leader say, “There’s been a paradigm shift.” I always ask, “What does that mean?” I hear it so often that it doesn’t have any meaning. I think that saying, “There’s been a fundamental change in A, B or C,” is much clearer and more direct. Be clear and concise in your communication. Just say what you mean without the jargon or technical terms. – Kristin Kimberly Marquet, Marquet Media, LLC

8. Dynamic

It’s often just a cover for a lack of clear planning and strategy. It’s better to offer a clear solution than to claim that something is “dynamic.” At the very least, give three points around the topic that show you can present your knowledge on it. – Nicole Munoz, Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc.

9. Yes

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with your team’s ideas and creativity, but saying “yes” to everything can be detrimental to your focus and, most importantly, your productivity. You should always be open to new ideas, opportunities, collaborations and to creating an environment where the team’s ideas are honored and respected. But always saying yes will muddle and distract your mind. Successful people say no to almost everything, and their businesses have skyrocketed. So try to validate your team’s ideas and opinions, but at the end of the day, those ideas should be subordinate to the organization’s goals and policies. By doing that, you’re more likely to increase your own productivity and also your team’s efficiency. – Kelly Richardson, Infobrandz

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