You’ve got a seat at the table. Your laptop is open to the agenda and you have a steaming cup of coffee sitting nearby.
You’ve come prepared to your meeting. A+ adulting. So far, so good.
For many young professionals, getting a voice in meetings is a challenge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course – any new employees, regardless of age, have to prove their work ethic and competence to a certain extent. But this does mean that you have to establish yourself as professional and knowledgeable from the get-go – first impressions do matter!
When you do get called upon to present or contribute your thoughts in a corporate-style meeting, there are definitely some things you want to avoid in order to make the best impression on your superiors and peers.
We’ll address body language, meeting etiquette, etc. in later articles. Today, let’s talk about three phrases that have the potential to poison your credibility in a meeting setting.
“In my opinion”
It’s a classic precursor to a remark that you feel someone in the room will disagree with. And there are two really big problems with the way it comes across.
First of all, your opinion is irrelevant in most meetings. Don’t take that the wrong way, YP; it’s just a fact. What your colleagues, supervisors, clients, etc. care about are the facts and your expertise – not what you are thinking (more on that in later). When you say this phrase, you’re unconsciously signaling to the other attendees in the meeting that you’re about to say something that isn’t really a valid point because it’s just your personal preference.
The second problem with saying “in my opinion” is that it exudes uncertainty and broad generalizations. If you’re really sure about something, there’s no need to place that phrase in front of it. If what you’re about to say is backed by data or research. say so.
So here’s an example of what not to say:
- “In my opinion, most of our customers think that our website is too cluttered.”
And here are some better alternatives:
- “I can only speak to the website from personal experience. But I’m happy to help however I can to find out how our customers feel about it.”
- “My experience with the website is that it seems cluttered. Do we have the resources to find out if our customers feel the same way?”
- “According to the survey we sent to our email subscribers, most of our customers think that our website it too cluttered.” P.S.: make sure you actually have the data to back up your claim if you use this approach. 😁
This is a hard habit to break. “I think” is a pretty casual term that we use in everyday speak.
Why should you drop this phrase? Because like “in my opinion,” this phrase throws up warning flags that you are basing your statement on opinion, not fact. What’s more, it has connotations of doubt. Do you think? Or do you know?
And don’t fall into the trap of saying “I feel like” either. It’s a common phrase among millennials, but older generations don’t always understand it in the same way we do.
A simple way to curb this habit is by replacing the word “think” with “believe.” Does it mean the same thing? Yes. But it softens the edges of uncertainty and puts a bit more confident professionalism in your tone.
For instance, here’s what not to say:
- “I think our clients need more detailed insights from us.”
- “I feel like our clients aren’t getting the answers they need.”
Try one of these approaches instead:
- “I believe that our clients need more detailed insights from us.”
- “I know that our monthly reports to clients could be improved.”
“Always” or “Never”
Here’s one final piece of advice for speaking up in meetings: avoid absolutes, even if it’s in hyperbole.
There’s a chance no one in the room will pick up on your use of “always” or “never,” or that if they do, they’ll understand you don’t literally mean them. But it’s much more likely that at least one attendee will hear you say one of these words and not catch your meaning. They may even call you out on it.
So whenever possible, just try to avoid saying “always” or “never” when you’re participating in a business meeting. Remember the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi:
Instead of saying one of these:
- “I’ve never seen quarterly sales levels this low.”
- “Our quarterly sales are always higher than this.”
Try one of these:
- “These quarterly sales numbers are some of the lowest I’ve ever seen.”
- “These quarterly sales are alarmingly low.”
What phrases have you learned to avoid in business settings? Leave a comment below!