Good Words, Bad Words: What’s Safe to Say?

Feb 02

Growing up, my parents were clear about what words were acceptable and those that weren’t. A slip of the tongue would earn a nasty swipe of soap.

Fast forward to now. While we may think we’ve outgrown the need to be reminded of good words/bad words, reminders are a good thing. Words that work in casual conversations or a text to a friend aren’t always appropriate in business situations. So what words should we avoid saying? As luck would have it, Rosie Ilould, a reporter for The Guardian, has written an article on this very topic. You can read it here. In case you prefer the highlights, here’s a sampling:

Do use: willing
People don’t want to be told to do something. It seems to kick in the stubborn gene and makes people want to do the exact opposite. However, if you add the word “willing” as in “would you be willing to try this product?” or “would you be willing to come for a meeting?” people are more likely to respond in the affirmative.

Don’t use: Just
Women are more likely to use the word just than men. It is often interpreted as a “permission” word. For example: you need to talk to your boss and you don’t want to be seen as bothering them. You say, “Can I talk to you about our project? It will just take a minute.” Try banning just from your lexicon. Don’t use it in conversation, emails or texts. You’ll soon feel more confident and less apologetic. People will notice.

Do use: Hello
“Hello” is a word that can change the course of a conversation. For example, a co-worker steams up to your desk with a complaint or a neighbor launches into a rant. A surprisingly simple way to defuse the situation is respond with a bright ‘Hello!’ The unexpected response can derail the other person’s negative track.

Don’t use: How are you?
When cold calling, sales people are trained to use small talk at the beginning of calls to build rapport. However, research shows it doesn’t work. Truth is, it is more likely to irritate people as they know it’s not a heart-felt question. Unless you’re genuinely interested in the condition of the other person, skip this over-used question.

Do use: It seems like
Rapport-building may be of little value in cold calls, but it can be essential if you’re trying to bring someone around to your point of view or end a conflict. A former FBI negotiator is a proponent of active listening as a means of rapport building. That is, showing the other person that you have taken in what they’ve said and, more importantly, understand what it means. Rather than focusing on what you want someone to say, listen to what they’re telling you and then repeat it back to them to confirm. Start with, “It seems like what you’re saying is…” You can also repeat the last sentence or thought someone has made and have them confirm that’s what they said. What this does is show you’re listening and what the other person says is important to you.

Don’t use: Yes, but…
If you’re stuck in a circular argument and convinced you’re the reasonable one, try listening out for how often you both use the phrase “Yes, but.” The phrase means “No, and here’s why you’re wrong.” The phrase “Yes, but” is one of the classic warning signs that you’re in an unwinnable conversation. The article suggests shifting the conversation by asking the other person, “What’s needed here?” or “What do you need?” It takes the conversation from a dead end to a solution-focused outcome.

I’m not sure I agree with all of these good words/bad words, but it is food for thought. As a freelance writer who specializes in technical and/or complex industries and writes speeches and presentations, I am very cognizant of the words I us.  If you have some good words/bad words you’d like to share, send them to me and let’s start on conversation on the topic on my Facebook.

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