Whether you’re fresh to out of college and new to the job market, transitioning to a new career, or simply suffering a crisis of confidence, it’s much easier to appear confident and experienced than you might think. In fact, many people manage to forge a career with nothing more than an elevated sense of self-worth!
Despite this, there is a number of phrases that might be making you come across as far more inexperienced than you intend – and you might not even be aware of it. This isn’t about putting on an act and becoming someone you are not, but rather being aware of the way you’re representing yourself.
By omitting these damaging turns of phrase, you’ll find yourself feeling confident and being given considerably more respect.
“I Don’t Know”
At the top of every list on this subject will always be “I don’t know”. When you’re new to an organization, it’s perfectly natural that there will be all sorts of things you’re unfamiliar with, from what statistics are most important, down to where the office supply is.
The important thing to remember is that it’s not about lying; if you start telling your colleagues you know something that you don’t you’re bound to come undone pretty quickly. But by telling people that you “don’t know” you’re not offering them a useful solution to their problem. You’re simply pointing out your lack of understanding. You want to make people feel like they were right to come to you and that they’re on a path to finding out what they need to hear.
One way around this is to identify who might be the right person to answer the question. You might say, “Let’s get John in on this, I think he can help.” If you really are completely stumped say “I’m looking into exactly that”. This way, you can come out of the exchange as a source of information, even if you don’t have a complete solution to the problem.
“Like”, “Obviously”, “Ummmm”
These “filler” words tend to lend an air of immaturity to your speaking patterns. The younger generation tends to use placeholders constantly, often without even realizing they’re doing it. More importantly, it can make you seem unsure about what you’re saying or even nervous.
Practice speaking more slowly. Become conscious about when you use these sort of placeholders and you’ll realize how it’s making you sound. When you’re feeling unsure of what you’re going to say, instead of adding an “um”, take a deep breath and think about what it is you want to communicate. Not only does this avoid unnecessary filler, but it makes you sound more authoritative in what you do choose to say.
“I” and “Me”
It might seem counter-intuitive, but research has shown that removing unnecessary personal pronouns from your communications can actually make you seem more authoritative. James Pennebaker, whose years of research led him and his students to build the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program, suggests that the people who use “I” most often in a conversation are normally those with the lowest social status.
This suggestion as that we reflect in our communication that being around people more experienced than us makes us feel more self-conscious. Remove “I” and “me” and you’ll come across as more authoritative and confident.
What’s the alternative, you might wonder? “I’d love to meet with you on Friday, around 5 o’clock works best for me” becomes “Let’s meet on Friday, around 5 O’clock would work best.” Simple.
“I Can Meet at Whatever Time Suits You”
Good luck with that call at 1AM on Sunday morning then! Saying you’re open to any time can give the impression that your schedule is actually empty, which of course reflects inexperience.
Instead, suggest an open time, like ‘How does Thursday afternoon work for you?’, or give them two different time options. It gives them the impression that you’re finding time for them, but puts you in a slightly elevated position in terms of authority. Honestly, if someone is that important they’ll probably be suggesting the time to you.
"I’ll Have to Check with my Boss"
At all levels of business, people need to get approval from a supervisor or executive– even Bruce Wayne had a Board of Directors. However, stating outright that you need to get approval from your manager, particularly for things that may seem minimally important to the person you’re collaborating with, can guarantee you come off as inexperienced.
Don’t be afraid to exchange this for “let me think about this/check the company policy/discuss with the rest of my team”. It gives you the opportunity to leave the call or meeting with time to talk to the right people, and come up with a definitive answer. Nothing will get you in more trouble than promising the world only to find out you can’t follow through on it.
People will understand you need time to consider your options, particularly if there is a financial stake involved. Explain that you’ll need to look at the budget and get back to them as soon as you can get approval.
When was the last time you ‘tried’ to get to an event or meet-up with any real intention of trying to get there at all? More importantly, it makes you sound unsure, or that you have a lack of understanding.
Wherever possible, try to be clear and definitive. If you really know that it’s absolutely impossible, then tell them straight up. An unpopular but decisive answer now is almost always better than dragging out the inevitable.
Alternatively, if you genuinely think there’s a chance that you’ll be able to work something out, move the responsibility for the delay elsewhere. Tell them “I’ll need to discuss this with my team” or that you “need to refer to the company policy.” This gives you the opportunity to show that the decision is based on factors outside of your control.
At the end of the day, the best way to look and feel more experienced at work is to believe in yourself. When you’re confident in your own abilities and make sure that you avoid these phrases as much as possible, you’ll soon realize that your respect will start going up immeasurably!
About the Author | Matt Arnerich works as a Content Writer over at graduate recruitment agency Inspiring Interns. He writes all about the graduate jobs market, as well as careers advice for graduates. Read more at Inspiring Interns' graduate advice blog. For hiring managers, Inspiring Interns who seek to hire a graduate, take a look at the innovative Video CVs!