7 Phrases That Signal a Lack of Confidence at Work (and What to Say Instead)

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Kayla Heisler1.16k
May 22, 2024 at 12:9PM UTC

Being seen as a leader requires going beyond doing your job well—it also involves your ability to project confidence. The way you present yourself and how you speak to others has a major impact on how they perceive you. Here are 7 insecure-sounding phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary and 7 alternatives to use instead:

1. “If you want to file these papers, that’d be great.”

It can be tempting to want so badly to seem likable that you pose tasks that you need completed as optional when they aren’t. Realistically, whether your team member wants to do something that’s their responsibility or not, it has to be done, so leave out ‘if you want to’ and ‘if you feel like’ when making a request.

Instead: “Please file these papers.”

You can (and should!) be polite when assigning tasks to your team members without sounding insecure. Add a ‘please’ before delivering your command to show respect while still giving clear direction.

2. “I’m so confused.”

Not everything makes sense to you the first time you hear it. You shouldn’t try to hide your confusion, but stating your confusion outright can be frustrating for the speaker and come across as being helpless.

Instead: “Please clarify what you mean by___.”

When you feel lost by what someone is saying, be assertive instead of defeatist. Help them help you by letting the speaker know exactly what you need to move forward. If they spoke too quickly, ask them to repeat a phrase. If you need them to define a term, let them know.

3. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure it out.”

This phrase automatically makes you seem like you’re at a deficit. This phasing indicates that you probably won’t be able to complete the task, and makes you seem like you lack agency to control your own situation.

Instead: “I’ll get started and let you know if I have questions.”

This option is more positive and demonstrates confidence. Still, the phrase leaves the door open for help down the road, so you aren’t attempting to hide that you could need assistance.

4. “I think I need more time on that project, if that’s ok.”

Whatever the reason, you know you’re about to miss a deadline whether it’s ok or not. While admitting you messed up is never fun, admitting your miscalculation without a solid plan causes even more stress for the person you report to.

Instead: “I need more time on that project. Can I turn it in on Wednesday?”

When you know you’re behind, admit it. Confronting your missteps head-on shows that even when can’t deliver, you’re aware of the situation. Have a clear plan of action (when you will be able to deliver or what you will need to deliver) that demonstrates responsibility and keeps your supervisor from having to do extra work.

5. “Could we maybe find an earlier time to meet?”

‘Maybe’ is one of the least confident words you can reach for. This phrasing sounds wishy washy, and if you do have an important reason for the request, said importance doesn’t come through.

Instead: “We should meet sooner. What time works for you?”

Be direct about what you want. Asking for what you need outright shows that you’re decisive. 

6. “Sorry to bother you with this, but…”

Starting off your request with an apology frames your interaction as if you’re doing something wrong. Using the word ‘bother’ makes it seem like you view your self as being a pest, and that’s the impression that you make on others.

Instead: “I need your thoughts on something.”

Preface your request for information in a way that builds the other person up instead of in a way that puts yourself down. 

7. “I have a really stupid question.”

There really are no stupid questions, and it’s hard to project confidence when you’re straight-up putting yourself down.

Instead: Just ask the question! No preamble necessary.

Ultimately, sounding confident at work comes down to asking for what you need without apology. Maintain respect, but be assertive.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.

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