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Weasel Words: The Kryptonite to Your Credibility

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

To listen to my video on this topic click here.

Remember Superman and how strong he was when he donned his cape and launched himself against all evil? He was strong, reliable and people trusted him to fight for them. He did have a weakness though, something that would bring him to his knees: kryptonite.

We have our own version of kryptonite and it’s in certain words we use every day. They’re called weasel words. I tend to pay attention to the language people use to express themselves. I work on this myself, actually, and have for years. I’m still learning. It’s so easy to slip into habits of language usage especially when it’s all around you. Here are a few you will recognize:

The nauseating use of the word ‘like’: He, was, like, really being very, like, condescending and I was, like, dude get over yourself!

Weasel words such as: sorta, kinda, probably, try, should, maybe, probably, etc. These words begin to deteriorate and weaken the impact of what you’re talking about and even at times your credibility. These are words that can be seen as dodging a commitment, stopping short of being held accountable for an outcome or not standing behind your work, opinion or solution. In short, giving yourself an out in case things go against you.

Consider how you’d feel in this situation:

You’re getting married and you’re at the point in the ceremony when the officiant says, “Will you, Susan, take Mark to be your lawfully wedded husband to have and to hold, etc., etc. ‘til death do you part? And Susan replies: “I’ll try.” How would you feel?

When the stakes are high and you say one of these weasel words, it rings an alarm in the brain that says, “Wait a minute! Will they or won’t they?”

Do this going forward from today: Use definitive language. The use of weasel words triggers uncertainty and uncertainty triggers a “move away” response in the human brain. We need certainty to move forward. Our brain wants to be able to predict and feel confident about what’s going to happen next as this makes us feel safe in making a decision, commitment or place trust in someone.

Examples of definitive language:

I will…

I will not

I can…

I cannot…

(there is a difference in how can and will land which is a post for another time.)

If you are not sure then just say that. Example: Someone comes to you with work they need you to deliver by Wednesday of that week. Here’s what you say if you sense that is not doable for you: “I’m happy to help you with this. Here’s what I will do: Given what’s already on my plate, I will deliver all of it by noon Thursday or I will deliver {define what part of the original request you could deliver by Wednesday} and someone else would need to take on the other parts. Which would you prefer?” or "Would love to help. Let me get clear on what is on my plate right now and get back to you in 5 minutes with what I can take on." or if it's your boss: "Would love to get this done for you. How would you like me to reprioritize X that you gave me earlier today? I will have X to you by end of week if this project is the new #1 priority. Agreed?"

Part of being a professional is being able to manager your plate and priorities. Develop a way of doing that with definitive language and not saying Yes to anything that is asked of you without some thought. I talk about Managing Your Yes in another post.

Try it out and build strength in your brand identity as someone who is clear, credible and delivers on what you say you can and will do.

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