As chamber professionals, there are words and phrases we may use that sabotage our ability to build confidence or that derail our goals to build cohesion or inclusion. Language is incredibly important, not just to our career advancement but to organizational culture as well.
When you speak you are communicating your values, beliefs, and preferences even when you don’t realize it. You’re also unwittingly sharing information about your skillset and your own level of confidence.
Nonverbal Communication That Won’t Build Confidence
First, it’s not always what we say but how we say it. Before we cover important phrases to scratch from your vernacular, let’s talk about what isn’t said. If someone has ever rubbed you the wrong way for no definable reason, or no matter what you do to endear yourself to someone, they still seem aggravated it could be because of nonverbal messages you’re sending. You can’t build confidence in you or your chamber if your body language is undermining your message.
Using the Wrong Tone or Pace
Many of us have cognitive biases. They’re subtle things that shape your opinion and get in the way of mental processing. There’s a great line in the Morgan Wallen song “More Surprised Than Me,” where he sings “I bought a Harvard sweatshirt off the Goodwill rack. Makes some people wonder if I’m smart like that.”
When we see someone wearing an Ivy League sweatshirt, we presume certain things about them based on our own cognitive biases. You might remember an Ivy Leaguer you knew who was smart and think that person’s smart too. Someone else might think the sweatshirt wearer is snobby because they knew someone who was snooty about their education.
We also have biases based on where we are from. In your area of the country, a Harvard degree might be impressive–top 4% of the country. On the other hand, some parts of the country wouldn’t trust someone coming in with a shirt like that.
The same can be said of your accent and your language pacing. For instance, if you are a quick-talker from the Northeast and you’re in the Northeast, you fit in. If you’re in the South, people may find the clipped way in which you speak abrasive even if you use very welcoming language. They may feel like you’re impatient with them.
While you’re not going to change your accent or colloquialisms, you should give some thought to your pacing. How does everyone around you speak? Are they quick or leisurely in their communication patterns? Being the opposite of your audience can cause communication issues and biases.
Volume also speaks volumes. Some parts of the country believe a loud voice expresses confidence. In others, a loud voice is a detractor. Knowing your audience is important to good communication.
This map from YouGov.com shows a breakdown of American’s stereotypes of personalities in each region.
Looking at Your Phone When Someone Is Talking
We’re going to attack this one head-on. While most people agree looking at your phone when someone is talking to you is rude, it is common behavior. We do it to our kids, our significant others, and even people waiting on us at restaurants.
There is sometimes a very good reason for our distraction like a child texting you right as someone is walking in your door. If this is the case, explain the situation and ask the child, or the person walking in, to give you a moment to address the issue at hand and then they will your undivided attention. Then give it to them.
Too many people try to make the person on the phone and the one in front of them happy. It doesn’t matter how great a multi-tasker you are. Someone feels ignored. Even if you’re listening, if your eyes aren’t on the person in front of you, they will see you as uninterested. You’ll be labeled a “bad listener,” which is not an ideal title for a leader or business professional trying to build confidence in their leadership.
If you’re always tapping your foot or pen or showing other signs of fidgeting, you may be perceived as uncomfortable in your leadership role, hiding something or expressing impatience. Fidgeting is often tied to discomfort whether it be the surroundings, the people involved in the conversation, or the topic being discussed.
If your fidgeting is simply from being a high-energy person, you might want to either rein it in or find ways to make it a strength by doing something active as you speak like conducting a walking meeting.
Learn more about the downside of fidgeting and what to do about it in this blog post on SlideGenius.com.
Examples of Undermining Language
In addition to how we speak or present, what we say is also important. If you want to be seen as a confident and capable leader who can build confidence in others, strike the following phrases from your vocabulary.
- “I’m sorry.”
Empathy and soft skills are important to today’s leaders. Apologizing when there is cause to apologize is not a sign or weakness, nor will it erode confidence in your leadership abilities.
But apologizing for little things that are not your fault or don’t require an apology can undermine how people perceive you as a leader in the chamber. For instance, using qualifiers like “I’m sorry if this has already been said” or “I’m sorry if I don’t understand what you’re trying to convey,” puts you in a “less than” position. Drop the sorry and get to what you mean.
- “I’m new here.”
Even if you are new and you don’t know the answer, the conversation shouldn’t stop there. Newness may be an excuse for not knowing something but it’s not an excuse for not being willing to find out. If you feel like you must say it, add something of value to the statement such as “I’m new here but I will find out who you need to speak to and get back to you by 5.” Then make good on your word.
- “I’m just a ______”
Whatever the word is, you are not “just” an anything. You are the CEO. You are the member engagement specialist. You are the intern. You are it. You are the one person entrusted with that role. You are not “just” anything.
- “I’m not sure, but…” or “I’m not sure this is right.”
People say these things when they’re insecure. The phrase is used as a qualifier for the listener to go easy on them if what they’re about to say won’t work. But all these phrases really do is derail confidence. Instead, if you’re not sure of what you’re saying, you have two options.
If you are really concerned about not being right and there’s a lot at stake, don’t say anything. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to be a creative solution finder and build confidence in your ideas, but you’re scared about how people will take your suggestion, don’t turn them off or prejudice them with this kind of negative qualifier.
If this is brainstorming, throw out the idea. See what people think. Use something less negative such as, “Here’s an idea…” or “I’ve been thinking about solutions. Let’s consider this one.”
- “It’s just that..”
Again, “just” is a killer. In this scenario, you sound whiney. It either is or it isn’t. Instead of saying “It’s just that the board is always giving me a hard time.” Examine your language. Do you really feel this way or is it an excuse?
Most relationship gurus will tell you to stay away from this word. It implicates and judges with no leeway or flexibility. Unless you’re using it as a positive affirmation along the lines of “Things always work out for me,” strike it from your vernacular.
- “I’m not good with technology” (or math or _____ ).
Technology may be a struggle for you (or maybe your nemesis is math or something else) but telling people you’re not good at it is invoking a silent “always” and if you just read the previous entry, you know why that’s a problem. You are limiting yourself in the future based on difficulties you (may have) had in the past. This statement also slaughters the growth mindset and consistency that is so critical as a leader.
You can learn something new. You can embrace a new concept or iteration. Just because you don’t understand or like Word, for instance, doesn’t mean you are banned from everything that requires an electric charge. Give yourself a break. While you may struggle with something at some point, that does not mean you need to wear that title around like a pageant winner forever.
Does this help you build confidence in your leadership by removing obstacles? What did I forget? Leave a comment in the Chamber Pros Facebook group.