Words matter—and some words are weaker than others. You may be minimizing your effectiveness and impact without realizing it if you use weak words, because they dilute your message and may even decrease your credibility. Which weak words are the worst culprits? Here are a few to avoid.

Filler Words

The most common problem is filler words. Most people aren’t comfortable with pausing in between thoughts. As a result, they’ll use meaningless words or sounds to fill the awkward silence.

People fear the pause will make them seem less smart. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Purposeful pauses actually give your words more power. If you need time to collect your thoughts, go for the power pause and avoid some of these common fillers:

  • Ums/ahs/ers
  • Kind of/sort of
  • Like
  • You know
  • Right?
  • So

The use of “so” has become so pervasive in conversation patterns that it has gotten the attention of linguists. (Ok, so now this is getting interesting.) Some believe the word is being used as a filler but also as a way to manage our modern conversations. Starting a statement with “so” may be a way to signal to the listener that what you are about to say is relevant. Or it may be used as a prompt to let the listener know you are continuing with your narrative or as a transition to another topic. You’ll notice even journalists are not immune to the allure of “so.” Determine for yourself if “so” is a weak word or an effective way to manage conversations.

Overusing Adverbs

Sometimes filler words are adverbs including:

  • Actually
  • Basically
  • Just
  • Literally
  • Totally
  • Highly

“Basically” and “literally” have become an epidemic in our speech patterns. I literally can’t stand it. “Literally” means “in a literal or strict sense.” It should be used to distinguish between the figurative and the literal meaning of a phrase; it’s not a synonym for “actually” or “really.” To quote Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University, “Don’t say someone ‘literally blew up’ unless he swallowed a stick of dynamite.” Also, the word “actually” might be offensive like when your colleague says, “that is actually a good idea.” You know who you are.  Yes, I actually have some good ideas on occasion.

Overcompensating Adjectives

If you overuse descriptive words, then they will lose their impact. For example, people who say everything is perfect or great become less believable. Using the same adjectives frequently may appear unauthentic and you may lose your audience.

Minimize Your Crutch Words

What words do you use as a crutch? These are words that you overuse that are meaningless and weak. Pay attention to the language patterns that you use. Be observant of your own word choices as well as others. The first step is to identify your crutch words. If you’re not sure, ask a colleague for feedback.

When you identify a word that you want to stop using, share that information with a colleague. You can use this person as an accountability partner. Ask them to signal you when you use this word.

What words do you want to remove from your repertoire?

So, like, what do you actually think? I literally want to hear from you.

VP, Client & Consulting Services

Holly brings two decades of federal, global, and corporate experience in the IT industry to LMD. Previously a C-level leader at a Fortune 150 company, she served in various senior leadership roles and has expertise in C-level business strategy, mergers and acquisitions, sales enablement, and...Read more