3 Verbal Habits That Are Career-Killers

By this age, we all know not to say “like” or “you know.” But even the best and brightest make these mistakes

Elissa*, an extremely bright senior manager at a Big Four accounting firm, recently had an epiphany. For several years, she had been frustrated with the slow trajectory of her career and being overlooked for promotion. Now, thanks to frank feedback from a colleague, she understood why: her passive communication style simply didn’t signal her as a strong candidate for leadership.

More than ever, In this age of frenetic motion and short attention spans, your ability to communicate effectively and confidently has a dramatic effect on your career. No matter how smart, capable or hard-working you may be, weak language will kill your charisma and credibility. Over time, you will train others not to pay attention to what you have to say.

“So you have neurotransmitters, right? And they translate into emotions that you feel in your body, right?” The speaker had stellar credentials and an impressive-looking slide deck with lots of facts and figures. Tacking on “right?” and seemingly seeking agreement at the end of every sentence undermined her credibility—“You’re supposed to be the expert,” I found myself thinking.

“All speakers have verbal tics—habits they repeat, usually without even consciousness,” says former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. With awareness and self-monitoring, you can pretty quickly eliminate unnecessary words such as like, um, and you know.

Weak language, however, often reflects a lack of confidence in expressing one’s opinion and taking a stand. See if you recognize these sneaky culprits in your own speech patterns:

Kill That “Kinda”: “I guess I just kinda wanna see...” As a young, fast-rising officer in Special Ops, my client’s communication style hadn’t caught up with his ranking. He needed to project authority and command in politically charged situations, whether it was bonding with an ally or questioning a possible insurgent. Instead, he was coming across as wishy-washy and tentative. Know what point you want to make, I told him, cut out the filler and speak in the declarative using strong verbs like assess, determine and evaluate.

Be the Captain of Your Career: “I ended up getting my MBA and then landed in the Tokyo office.” John was super-smart, ambitious and had taken decisive action throughout his career. Unfortunately, his passive description made it sound like he floated aimlessly through life and simply found himself in situations by chance. Even if there was some serendipity involved, you can always present yourself as purposeful after the fact. Use the language of intention: I decided to get my MBA. I made the decision to transfer.

Cut to the Chase: “I’m not sure if you’ve heard of [cutting-edge software] but…” Or “I don’t have much experience in this area but…”Bettina was a wildly inventive entrepreneur and had her finger on the pulse of technology trends. She also had a habit of undermining the power of her ideas with a weak lead-in that qualified her point of view and didn’t provide any useful information. Skip the lead-in, I told her, and cut to the chase.

Training yourself to speak with clear purpose will ignite a different reaction in your listeners and, in turn, feed your confidence in expressing your ideas.

*names have been changed

Renita Kalhorn is a performance strategist and founder of Step Up Your Game Now. She provides mental toughness and resilience training to small business owners, entrepreneurs and Navy SEAL candidates.


Photo Credits:

Speech Bubbles: Ben Miners/Ikon Image/Getty Images

Talking Vector Art: Leontura/iStock Vectors/Getty Images

Talk/Speech Bubbles: Vectorig/iStock Vectors/Getty Images