Language is powerful. Using the right words can signal you’re part of the group, convey difficult decisions without ruffling feathers, and demonstrate power. Meanwhile, sloppy word choices are often a red flag for sloppy thinking or a company culture with something to hide.
That’s true of firms with impenetrable or pretentious job ads and mission statements, and it’s also true of individuals. How we speak says a lot about our values. That being true, there’s one word you really, really should stay away from if you want to be successful in business, according to Aha! co-founder Brian de Haaff on LinkedIn recently.
What word does he think ambitious entrepreneurs should ban from their vocabulary? The innocuous sounding adverb “honestly.”
What about the rest of the time?
What’s wrong with signaling your intention to be entirely straightforward? That’s a quality that you shouldn’t need to signal, de Haaff insists, because it should be fundamental to your communication style all the time. If you have to highlight that you’re speaking honestly by saying “honestly,” you need to take a hard look at why you’re being less than forthcoming or authentic the rest of the time. Other people are already wondering, he warns.
“A VP of sales who I worked closely with before I co-founded Aha! always said ‘honestly’ when he really wanted something. He thought that it was a way to make a hard point, but we all questioned whether he was lying to us at all other times,” de Haaff writes.
But calling your credibility into question isn’t the only problem with using “honestly” for emphasis, according to de Haaff. In the full post, he also explains how the expression can highlight your frustration in an unhelpful, passive-aggressive way, and push people away in conversation.
He’s not the only one out there with a very strong and specific verbal pet peeve. Here on Inc.com, we recently rounded up expressions that even well-educated folks use without thinking that make them sound dumb or inconsiderate, for example. Business jargon and inflated diction are another continuous source of complaint as well. No doubt there are lots of other verbal pitfalls out there.
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