6 Phrases that Undermine Your Persuasiveness

by Michelle Mazur, Ph.D.


Language shapes your reality. As a female entrepreneur, you’re closing sales, negotiating deals, and writing copy, the reality that you want to create is one of powerful confidence when persuading.

The problem is that you often unconsciously undermine your efforts with the language that you use. Little words slip in all the time that make you appear less assertive and compelling.

I love the word “just” (more in just a second about why “just” is bad). I have to ruthlessly edit all of my writing and be careful in my conversations, so that I don’t “just” my way out of a new client or big time opportunity.

Where are you undermining your persuasive efforts? Here are 6 phrases to eliminate that will make you a more powerful, poised, and persuasive during your next presentation, business meeting or high-powered negotiation.


#1. We

“We” is the tiny word that kills your persuasive hopes and dreams. When you’re about to close a deal or make your big ask, you’ll be tempted to start talking as if you and you’re would-be client are already a team.

Remember, a “we” does not act. A “we” does not buy. A “we” does not hire you. Only a “you” makes decisions. Ditch the “we” in favor of “you” and your call-to-action will pack a punch.


#2. Just

Here’s my little darling “just.” What’s the problem with “just”? Just is used when you’re afraid of coming on too strong, being too opinionated, or making too bold of a statement.

I started “justing” all over myself in college while on the debate team. Apparently, I was too aggressive when making an argument (one judge used the b-word to describe my debating style), so I relied on just to tone it down.

Entrepreneurs can’t afford to dial it down. Just is an apology for having opinion. Stop “justing.”


#3. Honestly

“I honestly think…”

What up until that point you were lying to me? People expect you to be honest in your communication. Don’t give them reason to doubt your credibility or veracity by inserting this pesky word in your conversation.


#4. Actually

Tara Mohr explains it best in her book “Playing Big, the word “actually” seems like you’re surprised by what you said.

This word slips in when you are about to disagree or make a bold statement. You don’t actually think or actually feel instead “you think” and “you feel”. You don’t need to hedge your bets by inserting “actually” into the mix.


#5. “Don’t you think?”

Have you ever made a powerful statement, and then tagged on a question at the end like “don’t you think? Or “right?”

Women are natural relationship builders. It’s important to get consensus. But tag questions create an impression that you’re unsure about your statement, and you need approval.

Make your bold statement and leave the tag question off. Your words will carry more weight.


#6. “Might,” “maybe, “kind of”

I notice this type of equivocation in copywriting all the time. Which is a more powerful tagline: “Communication can change the world” or “Communication changes the world”?

If you said the second one, you’re correct! Standing out in the entrepreneurial word with your copy and your words means that you need to have a big idea or opinion behind your brand that permeates the way you communicate.

Apple’s slogan wouldn’t be as powerful if it was “Kind of Think Different”. No Apple commands us to “Think Different”.

The first step from eliminating these words from your conversation is noticing that you are using them. Figure out which word is the darling that is undermining you.

Practice not using that word in everyday (not sales) conversations. When you hear yourself say that word or phrase, correct yourself. You’ll become aware, and on the path to powerful persuasion.




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8 Replies to “6 Phrases that Undermine Your Persuasiveness”

  1. Rebecca West

    Well written article, Michelle!

    One of my favorites is “I think”. I used to try and beat this out of my dance instructors when I trained them. They’d be with a student and say “I think we should try…” and I’d just cringe. When you are paid over $100 an hour to be an expert, BE A GOSH-DARN EXPERT. The client is paying you to KNOW, not to hope, think, or wish. Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t own up to it when you *don’t* know an answer. If asked a question you can’t answer, simply say “I am not sure, I’ll find out,” but when it comes to stuff you are supposed to know, own it!

    1. Michelle Mazur

      I struggle with “I think” too. I use it as a filler word when I’m thinking (no surprise there). I’ve gotten better at taking long pauses, and if the pause goes on too long, especially if I’m on the phone, I’ll say “I need a moment to think.” Then back to the silence.

  2. Michelle

    Great article Michelle! I have a long way to go but will get there soon:)

    1. Michelle Mazur

      Me too, Michelle! I’m still working on some of these myself.

  3. Robert Olding

    Hi Michelle,

    I enjoyed your article. Thanks.

    I am currently developing a website and other material on Public Speaking for Introverts and would like to mention this article.

    A variation on “just” is “I just think that . . .” which always suggests to me a lack of proper analysis or support for what is to follow.

    I know your article is not about jargon, but in Australia at least it is endemic, especially in, but not limited to, the public sector. I find it distracting and therefore it detracts from the impact of a presentation. For example, “space” – as in “the public speaking space” – is hopeless over-used.

    Keep the articles coming – always helpful.

    Robert Olding

    1. Michelle Mazur

      Hi Robert! Feel free to mention this article. I also have several articles on my site about introverts and public speaking.

      Ahh jargon is a whole other article, but space is a huge jargon word in the States as well.

  4. Carlos Scarpero

    Interesting that you are saying that tag questions reduce persuasiveneess. I’ve heard from some of the NLP guys that say it can increase persuasion.

    1. Michelle Mazur

      There are multiple studies that document that tag questions make you seem less confident, less powerful, and like you’re looking for permission.

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