Get expert advice on every topic you need as a small business owner, from the ideation stage to your eventual exit. Our articles, quick tips, infographics and how-to guides can offer entrepreneurs the most up-to-date information they need to flourish.

Subscribe to our blog

These common work phrases actually undermine your credibility

Posted by Celene Robert

December 8, 2021

According to best-selling author and leadership development coach Wendy Capland, entrepreneurs and leaders need to avoid unwittingly undermining their credibility by using what she deems “minimizing language.” This type of language comprises words and phrases that convey uncertainty and self-effacement, even when their intent is to communicate confidence. 

Once you consider the downsides of these common phrases, it becomes much easier to adapt better phrasing. Here, we’ve listed 8 popular phrases to trim from your work vocabulary, so your competence comes through.

  1. Just wanted to thank you / follow up / mention / I’m just

Using the word just inevitably weakens the impact of any statement that follows, according to Caplan, who calls it “a qualifier.” To the listener, it implies that whatever comes after it is not very important. 

When we introduce our questions and ideas with just, the undertone is one of apology. It sounds as if we’re asking for permission to speak or an excuse for potentially disturbing someone.

What to use instead. Instead of trying to be unobtrusive with “just,” use direct statements like: 

  • “I wanted to know.”
  • “I want you to know.''
  • “Checking in to see if you’ve had a chance to review.”
  1. I feel

We often mistakenly use the word feel to communicate an opinion, thought or matter of judgment. But phrasings that being with I feel deliver a subtle message that you are in an emotional state. 

What to use instead. Stick with direct statements such as:

  • “I think.”
  • “I believe.” 
  • "I thought.”
To express a feeling: Use a direct phrase like “I am, as in “I am excited about the project.” Using “I feel excited about the projects” indicates uncertainty.

  1. I’m sorry (to bother you)

It’s good etiquette to apologize when you’ve made a mistake or behaved thoughtlessly. But being sorry for seemingly everything is a sign of insecurity. 

Informing someone that you are about to bother them oddly only increases the chances of you actually bothering them. 

What to use instead. Instead of apologizing, say something like:

  • “I’d like to add.” 
  • “Why don’t we try this.” 
  • “Thank you for waiting or listening.”
  1. In my opinion

Stating your views as an opinion blunts your authority. It’s used by people when they don’t want to seem overbearing. While the intent is honorable, the word weakens the surrounding statement.

The phrase suggests your view is a personal whim or bias rather than a reasoned argument. 

What to use instead. Use a strong phrase like “I believe,” or the reasons behind your stance. 

  1. I’m not sure / I could be wrong

People use I’m not sure to sound humble, but it comes across as: “Don’t listen to me.” 

I could be wrong is another expression that projects weakness and uncertainty. Why should anyone care about the views you are unsure of or could be wrong about? 

These phrases don’t project confidence and are better off axed from your vernacular.

  1. I’m not an expert, but

According to Melody Wilding , executive coach for high achievers and author of “Trust Yourself,” phrases like “I’m not an expert, but…” are harmless prefaces for relaxed brainstorming sessions. 

But if you’re in a situation where you’re trying to get people to respect you and take your ideas seriously, this phrasing undermines your credibility.

What to use instead.  Try a more direct approach, such as:

  • “I’d suggest we consider X” 
  • “I think Y is the best direction.” 
  1. Does that make sense? 

Concluding a statement with a request for validation at the end — Does that make sense? —suggests whatever you said doesn’t make sense to you either. 

What to use instead. If your message seems unclear, say “Let me rephrase that'' and start over.

  1. I don’t know

I don’t know should never end of your statement. “If you leave it there and you’re done, it doesn’t make you look good,” says Wendy Capland

Follow I don’t know with what should happen next or a suggestion as to how the other person might find an answer. 

What to use instead: 

  • “I’ll do some research and get back to you.” 
  • “You can refer to this or Mrs. X.” 

More phrases to think twice before using:

Instead of …“When you get a minute.”

Use … “This is a friendly nudge” or “When you have a moment.”

Instead of …  “I was wondering” 

Use … “How about we ...?” or “What do you think of X?"

Instead of …  You may already know this but …” 

Use … If you think someone knows what you’re about to say, present the info in a new, forceful way.

Instead of … “Do you mind” or “If that’s okay.” 

Use … If the question is important, ask without the caveat. 

Instead of … “I don’t get it” 

Use … “Help me understand this.”


Celene Robert
Celene Robert

Celene heads up the marketing at Escalon. Passionate about helping companies grow their business, she spends her days finding new ways to bring essential business services to startups, SMBs, and growth-minded companies. Based in the PNW, she’s the proud owner of 8 pairs of Birkenstocks and a sassy, cuddly cat.

We provide you with essential business services so you can focus on growth.