Often, it’s not what you say, but how you say it. The tone we use and the words we select can make a huge difference in how others perceive us.
Many students beginning summer internships, or recent grads beginning a new job, are eager to get along with their co-workers and gain their respect. As a student or young professional, this can be difficult when others view you as “the intern” or “the new person” or “the young person.”
How you communicate and the confidence with which you express yourself will affect others’ perceptions of your maturity, credibility and ability. Below are three small things you can do right now to project confidence in the work place.
Do not qualify your thoughts and ideas
Qualifiers are words or phrases such as, “just”, “I guess”, “I think”, etc. They diminish the certainty of our thoughts and words and usually sneak into sentences unintentionally. Consider the difference:
“I just think we should pursue option A because it is less risky.”
“I guess this would solve the problem, don’t you think?”
“We should pursue option A because it is less risky.”
“This would solve the problem.”
The latter suggests you are confident in your idea. How can you expect co-workers to be confident in your suggestion if you don’t seem confident yourself?
Watch for fillers
Filler words sneak into our verbal communication and unnecessarily clutter our message. These are words such as “like”, “um” and “you know”. Stopping yourself from using these words can be a tough habit to break, especially if you are used to hanging out with friends who speak the same way. Remember how hard Cher from Clueless had to work to be taken seriously?
Try to be more mindful of your words on a day-to-day basis, and eventually your speech pattern will change. Allow for silence instead of “um” and you’ll seem contemplative instead of juvenile.
Stop saying “I’m sorry” for everything
We often apologize for things that aren’t our fault. Women especially have this tendency. Women are taught to be “nice” and “ladylike” and so we apologize for things that have nothing to do with us. This isn’t just something women do, though. Anyone wanting to seem kind and sympathetic toward others can find themselves saying “I’m sorry” for things beyond their control. For example:
“I’m sorry your day off was ruined.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother’s illness.”
“I’m sorry that you didn’t get the promotion you wanted.”
If you replace the “I’m sorry” in those sentences with “I apologize” it sounds silly: “I apologize you didn’t get that promotion.” Assuming it’s not your fault, why would you apologize for someone else’s failure or misfortune? It doesn’t make sense. Instead try:
“Sounds like your vacation didn’t go as planned. That’s too bad. I hope you were still able to relax.”
“It’s difficult to watch a family member go through that. Is there anything I can do?”
“I know you really worked hard for that promotion and I can see why you would feel that way.”
You can empathize without taking the blame, and in doing so, you’ll respond in a way that suggests you were actually listening instead of habitually uttering, “I’m sorry.”
What do you think?
While the tips listed above are fairly simple, they are small changes that can have a big impact on the way you are perceived in the workplace. For more on effective communication, check out this blog, one of my favorites.
Have you thought about how you communicate in the workplace? As a new employee or intern, has your communication style impacted the relationships you developed with your colleagues? Please share!
Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, her blog, LinkedIn or BrazenCareerist.