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Avoid These Words to Improve Your Business Communication

A picture of post it notes featuring words to avoid in business communication, including business jargon.

Words to Avoid for Clarity and Impact

In the fast-paced world of business communication, every word counts. Whether you’re facilitating a team meeting, giving a presentation or drafting an email, the words you choose can significantly impact how your message is received. However, certain words and phrases have a tendency to dilute clarity, weaken authority, or even introduce unnecessary conflict. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some common words to avoid and explore why they might be best left out of your business vocabulary.

 1. “Why?”

Why is “why” a problem?

“Why” is one of the most commonly used function words in English. It becomes part of our vocabulary from when we’re around two or three years old and helps us to make sense of the world around us. In business, it can help us in root cause analysis to identify problems.

However, in some business conversations, “why” is one of the words to avoid, as it can sometimes come across as confrontational or accusatory. Consider the following examples:

  • Why haven’t you completed the report yet?”
  • Why did this project fail?”

Framing your questions without ‘why’ can soften them and often drive deeper responses. Using alternative question words such as ‘what,’ ‘where,’ ‘when,’ and ‘how’ can help you foster a more open and collaborative atmosphere. Phrases such as ‘tell me,’ ‘explain’ and ‘describe’ can help to provide much richer answers without blame or judgement.

  • “Can you tell me about the status of the report?”
  • What were the contributing factors to the project’s outcome?”

Even the standalone use of the word “why” can come across as judgemental or hostile to an idea.

  • “I’m a little worried about the way this project is going…”
  • Why?”

Instead of using “why”, try using the phrase “in what way?”. This is a gentler way into the conversation and can be much more supportive in a difficult situation.

By eliminating “why,” you encourage dialogue without placing blame or making assumptions, ultimately fostering a more productive exchange.

2. “But” 

Substitute “but” for a positive pivot

It’s amazing how much power a tiny, three-letter word can hold. But “but” is another on our list of words to avoid in business.

The word “but” has a way of negating everything that comes before it. When you say “but”, all the other person hears is “no” – or that you’re disregarding anything they’ve said. This can lead to defensiveness or misunderstanding.

Consider the impact of these statements:

  • “Your presentation was good, but it lacked detail.”
  • “I hear what you’re saying about workload, but unfortunately we can’t extend the deadline.”

But how do you avoid “but”? 

There are three things you can do to avoid “but”. First of all, you can substitute the word “but” for “and”, which allows for a more positive pivot to your argument:

  • “Your presentation was good, and adding more detail would enhance it further.”
  • “I hear what you’re saying about workload, and unfortunately we can’t extend the deadline.” 

Alternatively, you can replace “but” with the word “so” in some situations. 

A really effective way to avoid “but” is to simply take a pause, putting a ‘full stop’ between your sentences. This is helpful, as the short pause can also help to demonstrate that you’re empathising with what the other person has said.

Beware of the “posh buts” 

Some words have the same linguistic effect on our audience as “but”. Beware of words like “however,” “nevertheless,” “nonetheless” 

By replacing “but” with more constructive language, you acknowledge strengths while still addressing areas for improvement, fostering a growth-oriented mindset.

3. “Just” 

The word “just” often creeps into business communication as a qualifier, which can be used to denote politeness or deference. However, using “just” can actually have the negative effect of lowering the impact of your message. For example:

  • “I’m just following up on the email I sent last week.”
  • “I just wanted to check if you received my proposal.”

In each of these instances, the word “just” diminishes the speaker’s confidence and authority, making their statements sound hesitant or apologetic. It implies that what they have to say is of lesser importance or validity.

By removing “just,” you assert your position and communicate with clarity and confidence. Without it, your message becomes more direct and assertive, conveying professionalism and authority.

  • “I’m following up on the email I sent last week.”
  • “I wanted to check if you received my proposal.”

Using language that is direct and authoritative helps to establish credibility and command respect from our audience. When we speak with confidence and conviction, others are more likely to perceive us as competent and trustworthy.

Whether we’re presenting ideas in a meeting, negotiating with clients, or leading a team, eliminating “just” from our vocabulary can strengthen our communication and enhance our authority.

4. Jargon

We often use business jargon to demonstrate our expertise or efficiency – we think it makes us sound more professional. However, overusing business jargon can actually have the opposite effect of obscure meaning and alienate audiences. A 2023 study found that jargon actually makes people feel more excluded, and that this effect is particularly common amongst younger workers.

Phrases like “synergy,” “low-hanging fruit,” or “think outside the box” may sound impressive but can be vague or cliché.

Many people have a tendency to overuse industry-specific jargon and acronyms. This can be useful for those familiar with the terminology, but can alienate or confuse others. Use plain language whenever possible to ensure clear communication across all audiences.

Instead, opt for clear, straightforward language that everyone can understand. Consider your audience and choose words that resonate with them without resorting to buzzwords or industry-specific jargon. Your goal should be to communicate ideas effectively without creating unnecessary barriers or confusion.

In conclusion, refining your business communication by avoiding certain words and phrases can enhance clarity, assertiveness, and professionalism. By eliminating “why,” “just,” and “but,” and simplifying language by avoiding jargon, you can ensure that your messages are received as intended, fostering better understanding and collaboration in the business environment.

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