Credibility FLOPS: 5 Ways to Screw Your Personal Brand, 3 Steps To Boost It

Posted in Professional Growth

Every day, we engage in critical conversations online, in person, by phone, during meetings or presentations and countless other ways. Trouble is, many smart professionals unwittingly fall victim to insipid words or phrases that undermine professional credibility and hack reputations.

Words that zap occupational credibility can be found in all forms of communication, but may do their worst damage via spoken word. We’ll highlight five credibility thieves that sneak into business conversations, and offer tips to identify and eradicate vernacular villains from an otherwise eloquent professional vocabulary.   

“Kinda” (include “kind of,” “sort of” and “sorta”)

Listen to colleagues, vendors, clients and yourself as words are exchanged. The painfully weak term “kinda” slinks its way into professional conversations with surprising frequency. A term perhaps only suitable when a middle schooler is asked if he or she has a crush on someone -— “Wellllll… kinda?” Even middle schoolers should strive for better.

Here is a real example: “We packaged these concepts into a spreadsheet to kinda show how each one can be used in this campaign.” The essence of such a sentence is rock solid. However, “kinda” signals uncertainty, often habitually used even when a presenter is, in fact, confident in what she or he is saying.

The word somehow oozed its way into a presenter’s personal vocab and it ain’t pretty.

“Tried to” (include “attempted,” “wanted to” and “hoped to” )

Much like the use of “kinda,” countless professional interactions happen each day where “tried to” needlessly seeps its way into dialogue. “With this concept, we tried to capture the essence of the brand persona.” A recipient predisposed to skepticism may hear their inner monologue add “tried to… BUT FAILED” to the statement.

When a communicator allows “tried to” into a conversation, attention wanders to effort versus outcome. Effort is rarely worth rewarding. Remove the offending phrase and redirect focus to results, which is of keen interest to an audience.

The more declarative “This concept captures the essence of our brand” helps vanquish the option of doubt.

“That’s a great question” (include “I’m glad you asked that”)

If at all possible, never tell someone they just asked a great question. A tried-and-true example media trainers use when preparing titans of industry for a big CNN or Wall Street Journal interview.

Telling a person they just asked a great question triggers the devil over their shoulder to sarcastically respond, “Yeah. I know it’s a great question, because I asked it, you moron.” Particularly true of reporters, because their job is to ask questions.

Repeating a question is similarly sinister and can be more reflex than intentional. Stop the reflex. In a business setting, repeating a question signals a CEO, VP of Whatever or the client across the table that you are buying time (which may well be the case). Police officers actually watch for question repeaters, because the subtle communication signal can be a harbinger of a lie. “Where was I going, officer? Uhhhhhh…”

The antidote for telling someone they asked a good question or repeating their question before you respond? Investing meaningful time anticipating tough questions prior to the business interaction or presentation. Focus a big chunk of preparation on questions you DON’T want to come out during a meeting in advance. Have answers ready to respond quickly and with authority. Prepared pros rarely find the need to buy time. 

“I think”

Compare these statements: “I think the best approach is to move forward with this plan” vs “The best approach is to move forward with this plan.”

Use of “I think” is usually a colossal waste of two syllables. Needless hedge words. Much like “tried to,” we’ve accomplished nothing more than injecting doubt. ‘Nuff said.

“Ya know” (include the more formal twin “you know”)

A mentor of mine recently stopped me in mid sentence and said (in a rather frustrated tone,) “You can stop saying ‘ya know’ any time now.” BOOM… SPLAT… OUCH! Smacked down by my own point. Oh well.

Perhaps more common among Midwesterners (Minnesotans, in particular, doncha know ya know), saying “ya know” may inadvertently communicate a desperate plea, “believe me…PLEASE…I think I know what I’m, ya know, talking about, kinda.” The speaker appears to be convincing her or himself of their point before even attempting to convince the recipient of the same.

Simple fixes

Arresting credibility killers doesn’t require attendance at a remedial communications class. Three simple steps can put these language thieves in a vernacular prison where they belong:

  1. Listen for these little verbal villains when you speak. You might surprise yourself with how often they show up. Awareness is half the battle.
  2. Pay attention to when and how credibility killers work their way into conversations. Patterns often come to light quickly, such as reflexively using specific words to start sentences or during moments of presentation panic or self doubt.
  3. Purge offenders one at a time. Communicators need not resort to self flagellation, but a gentle personal reprimand whenever such terms are used will suffice. Don’t get too down right away, because credibility killers will be amplified in your head ten-fold for a while. People are often surprised how often cred-sucking words and phrases manifest during interactions once they complete step one. Still, be resolute in crushing the urge to utter useless, reputation robbers during every interaction.

Before long, messages will be delivered with greater conviction, conversations will be strengthened and, ya know, we think you’ll kinda sound smarter.

What other credibility killers are out there? Together, we can eradicate villainous words and phrases that steal our personal PR, authority and presence in the workplace.