7 Words and Phrases Business Leaders Never Use

7 Words and Phrases Business Leaders Never Use

Mindset and language are powerful in the business world.

Regardless of whether you’re a CEO of a big corporation or solopreneur kicking goals in your small to medium enterprise, choosing your words carefully is so important. 

Your language not only sets the tone for workplace culture, it also influences others’ impressions and perceptions of you – almost instantly.  

Speaking directly, removing passive language and getting rid of weak words from your communications are the quickest ways to increase your authority as a leader.    

Here are the words and phrases that true business leaders never use.


business woman looking at colleague happily


A classic ‘protector’ word, just diminishes the content that comes after, often used to soften the request. “I’m just following up…” is the most common use, generally in email communication.  Like any weasel word, once you start noticing it, its frequency will shock you.

man and woman having an informal meeting

Very, absolutely, totally and really

Superfluous and dramatic, these adjectives and adverbs do little to add value or impact. Saying “I’m very interested” conveys little more interest than simply saying “I’m interested”. When your goal as a business leader is to speak directly and clearly, short active sentences are the best way to do this. Adding these words only detracts from your authority. Nothing is lost by cutting them; function and clarity are gained.


woman presenting at a conference

I think, I feel and I believe

These phrases are another set of words designed to protect you from attack when voicing an opinion. Framing them as only your opinion offers some protection from those who hold different opinions. But if you are trying to establish authority, prefacing your thoughts with, “I think”,  “I feel” or “I believe” only undermines that. You are entitled to your opinion and sharing it freely – without fear of the consequences – will reinforce your power as a leader.


business woman presenting at conference

Actually and obviously

Think about instances when someone has used actually or obviously in email or even speech. How did it make you feel? Did you feel spoken down to? These words are passive aggressive and condescending, adding little value to your communications and often causing offence. Let the functional words do the talking and leave the reader or listener to interpret from there.


business women having a meeting

Like, whatever and etcetera

“Use the right word, not its second cousin,” as Mark Twain said so eloquently. Like, whatever and etcetera are filler words, adding nothing of value to the meaning or purpose of writing and speech.


business man talking to colleagues in meeting


While statements can’t always be absolute, a true leader understands the impact of using wishy washy language like “maybe”. It can imply uncertainty and a lack of confidence when used in certain contexts.


business woman giving presentation in a boardroom


There are times when an apology is necessary. The more you apologise though, the less significant it becomes. Reserve sorry for times when the outcome was under your direct control or an issue was caused by you. Rather than saying “Sorry for the delay in replying” why not say: “Thanks for your patience”. Subtly reframing the statement as a positive will take the emphasis off the negative and establish a better context for what is to follow.


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