8 Phrases That Are Accidentally Undermining Your Competence at Work

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June 16, 2024 at 7:22PM UTC
I'm sure I don't need to alert anyone here — on a website for women professionals — that there are some people who will diminish your competence in their heads no matter what you say or do. 
Maybe you know that and you're just here to comment that it's ineffective and harmful for women to carry the burden of acting a certain way to appeal to an oppressive system — or that there are real, important biases that are much more pressing than someone taking your sentence wrong and talking about this at all is a bit petty and making people more insecure. ("Is this women's empowerment??") 
Or maybe you know that and you're here to read the advice because you view acting a certain way as much as possible as the means to survival and even success, which is more practical or meaningful to you than that critique above. 
Or maybe they're equal to you. Or maybe there's some other way you order how you feel about the whole thing. 
Maybe you're just bored and this popped up in your email.
No matter why you're here, I'm here to supply eight phrases that threaten to make you look incompetent in traditional professional settings and why they do. Here they are.

1. "Actually."

Often, the word "actually" is used to describe something that's "actually"... not true. This word doesn't add zing to a sentence and can diminish what you're trying to say (or come off a bit condescending).

2. "Basically."

While "basically" can be used to boil down a point or emphasize the important parts of what you're trying to say, it can also read as shallow or melodramatic. It's best to use the word sparingly and only to emphasize, not to add dramatic flair. 

3. "Literally."

"Literally" is often used as a flagrant exaggeration — not the most reassuring message to be sending to your superiors. Using "literally" in casual, fun conversation is just fine, but avoid using it too much when you're talking about business. 

4. "I'm such an idiot."

While using self-deprecating statements may feel humble or relatable in the moment, they can chip away at what others really think of you. So much of how others perceive us is subconscious. Telling them to consider you an idiot, whether they truthfully believe it or not, plants that idea in their head. If you want to be perceived as confident or intelligent, say those things about yourself. Act them out. 

5. "I'm going to ask a stupid question."

If a question is truly pointless, don't ask it. If a question is purposeful, ask it with confidence. Calling your thoughts or actions stupid only gives credence to other people to immediately assume they're stupid, too. 

6. "This may be a bad/silly idea, but..."

Similar to the above, if you have an idea, don't label it as "stupid" or "bad." That will allow others to immediately, subconsciously think less of your ideas and competence. Instead, share your ideas freely — without value markers or with the assertion that it's a "good idea."

7. "I told you so."

Only people who are insecure put others down when they make a mistake. Making other people feel incompetent makes it look like you're trying to mask your own incompetence. It's not a good look. 

8. Any ineffective business jargon.

If you're using buzzwords that don't mean anything (like the ones on this list), it's difficult for others to assume that you know what you're talking about. If you did, you'd just say it. Fluffy words are often deemed a mask for insecurity or a lack of effectiveness. Don't let that presumption be about you. 

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