I was writing an email the other day and having difficulty putting into words exactly what I wanted to say. Does that ever happen to you?
I wanted to make a strong, clear point, but I also didn’t want to offend the receiver. So I found myself typing out phrases like “I just feel like…” and “don’t be offended, but…” in every paragraph.
When I completed my email I gave it a final readthrough, and needless to say, it was not my best literary work of art.
The problem was that the point I was trying to make kept getting lost in between all the unnecessary permission-asking phrases and apologies. Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I couldn’t help but think that the writer (me!) must have low self-worth.
I wasn’t standing behind my convictions. I was questioning them. Or at the very least, I was weakening them and opening myself up for the reader to challenge my words.
You see, there are certain phrases that we use on a regular basis that cheapen our message. Phrases like, “In my opinion,” “let me just say,” “I believe,” “I’m sorry, but,” and “no offense, but…” are a few common ones.
What’s the deal with these unnecessary phrases? Let me break it down for you.
Think about the phrase “I feel like” for a second. If used correctly, this should lead into you expressing an actual feeling.
But when was the last time you actually expressed a feeling after this lead-in? Chances are, you mostly use this phrase to express an opinion.
Many business places and schools offer conflict resolution lessons, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending one, you will know that they teach you to use the phrase “I feel like.” The idea is that in the event of a conflict, you can express your opinion as a private emotion, so that the person you are confronting does not feel personally attacked by you.
Makes sense, right?
Unfortunately, by relying on this qualification, you end up using this phrase as a crutch to weather the blow of future complaints or criticisms. And guess what, we see right through you — and it’s insulting.
I can’t count the number of times I have used the following lead-ins:
In each scenario, I believed I was strengthening my argument because I was putting my own personal weight behind it. As it turns out, I was doing quite the opposite.
For starters, why are you stating that it’s your opinion? Of course it’s your opinion. Your belief or opinion is inferred by the fact that it’s coming from you. Perhaps you are trying to make it explicit, but that is unnecessary and redundant.
Maybe you’re using this as a filler or a fluffer. Often times we use these phrases because we want to soften the blow of an upcoming negative statement (similar to how we use “I feel like”), but sometimes it’s because we’re uncomfortable making a blunt statement and worried about how others will react.
Let’s compare these two sentences:
Baseball is the best sport vs. In my opinion, baseball is the best sport.
In saying the latter, you aren’t expressing a definitive statement. You are saying, sure, I think baseball’s great, but you don’t have to.
Where’s the conviction?
On the other hand, in simply stating that baseball is the best in the first example, you are being more direct. You aren’t beating around the bush, and hedging it with your belief. You unflinchingly state that baseball is the best, no question.
It’s pretty safe to assume that most of us are offenders when it comes to overusing the word “just.” With catch phrases like “just saying” and common sentence structures like “I know I’m just an associate, but..,” we really overdo it.
“Just” is one of the biggest offenders because it marginalizes what you are trying to say. In fact, we felt so strongly about this one that we wrote an entire post on it, so I won’t go into the nitty gritty.
Simply put, stop using it!
Telling you what not to use is all well and good, but how can you overcome using these phrases if you aren’t sure how to identify them in the first place?
As a writer, paragraphs and sentences flow out of me at a pretty quick rate, and sometimes I don’t think about what I’m actually writing until I go back and re-read it. Which brings me to this incredibly important point — you must take the time to think before you speak or edit what you write.
Remove your emotions for a minute and truly think about the message you are trying to convey. For me, this means going through papers and emails and eliminating certain phrases… and exclamation points, because I overuse those, too!
Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned to identify the nasty offenders diminishing my writing authority:
By taking a step back and considering your message from a third party’s perspective, cutting out permission-asking phrases, and being more considerate with your wording, you can eliminate these offensive phrases from your vocabulary.
These phrases are sloppy and can make us appear disingenuous or uncertain. Is that really how you want to portray yourself?
Here’s my challenge to you — this week before you hit ‘Send’ on any new emails (business or personal) re-read everything and identify these nasty permission-asking phrases. Delete those puppies and make a list of which phrases you found yourself using the most.
Seriously. Keep a notepad with you and write every one of them down for the next seven days. This will go a long way in helping you identify and cut back on future faux pas.
Remember, being a strong, convicted, eloquent writer and/or speaker is awesome, and so are you!
Sabrina Taylor is a sassy writer and online manager with an inappropriate love for Buzzfeed, pizza and CrossFit. She has over 5 years experience working with businesses helping them build effective communications and marketing strategies. She is currently living in the hot and humid mountains of Northern Thailand, dreaming of hoodies, snow and Canadian bacon (first world problems, amiright?!).