Confidence is a desirable trait. Who doesn’t want to be seen as assured and capable during as many interactions as possible? It helps us feel better about ourselves, it helps us succeed at work, it helps us succeed in relationships, and it helps our kids learn how to act confidently, too. It’s smart, then, to keep an eye out for ways in which you might be sabotaging how confidently others view you. One big area? How you communicate. Using certain phrases and even certain words can create obstacles both at work and at home, causing people to lose confidence in you and call your abilities into question (“Are you mad at me?” is a big one). As awareness is everything, here are nine phrases that make you sound less confident — and what to consider saying instead.
1. “What do you think about that?”
No, there’s nothing wrong with asking questions. But you should be careful how you go about doing it. Saying, “What do you think?” can come off as though you’re not sure in your own solutions or opinions and are looking for someone to solve the problem for you.
“If you need approval or guidance, that is typically a sign of insecurity,” says Michele Goldman, a psychologist and media advisor for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. Instead, she suggests rephrasing it as, ‘This is what I think….I’m wondering if you have thoughts or feedback that might help me look at the situation differently.’”
2. “We can just do whatever you want”
Lack of confidence is very apparent in people who can’t make decisions or defer to others to make decisions for them. This phrase makes it explicit. “It means we don’t have to confront our insecurity or stand up to others if what we want is different from what they want,” Goldman says.
Her fix? “Start by identifying what it is that you want and communicate that. ‘I am leaning towards X, I’m aware that might be different than what you want. Let’s figure out a way to work together to both get what we want.’”
3. “You’re always better than me at this type of stuff.”
Self-deprecation is a classic tool for those who like to hide or mask their insecurities. However, it does not inspire confidence in people if you’re constantly lauding their strengths at the expense of your own. In the long run, if you’re always telling people how much better at various tasks they are, it could lead people to question what it is that you are good at.
“We use comparison and other people’s strengths to highlight our perceived weaknesses,” Goldman says. “If this is a common phrase you find yourself saying, try to change it slightly into ‘You’ve had more practice at this, can you show me how to do it so I can improve?’ or even ‘It’s okay that I’m struggling at this now, I’m still learning.’”
4. “I wonder what they think/feel about me.”
No one is blaming you for thinking this, but voicing it aloud is not advisable. “It’s natural to want to be accepted by others and we also need to be able to navigate social settings or professional settings even if we are not necessarily the most sought out person,” says Goldman. “It’s more important to be comfortable and genuine with yourself.”
5. “Are you mad at me?”
People who are insecure can often misread social cues and internalize them, believing that someone’s mood must be about them or a result of something that they did. “We also can misinterpret their emotions to be about us, based out of fear that we did something wrong.” Instead of assuming or interpreting, Goldman says it’s best to simply ask, “How are you feeling?”
6. “I need time to think, I don’t know what to choose.”
Taking a moment to process a decision and weigh your options is fine, but it can convey insecurity when you make it sound as though you don’t know how to decide something. When you sound rattled or flustered when making a decision it can make people question your ability to make confident choices. “Ideally, we want a rephrase of this statement that is less insecure but still gives you time to think things through. Try something like, “I’m not certain yet, I need time to decide. Please be patient with me while I figure out what is right for me / what I want.”
7. “I can’t believe they left the house looking like that.”
You might think that by commenting on someone else’s appearance you’re making yourself look better by comparison. But, reality, you’re only conveying how insecure you are about your own appearance. It can make it sound like you’re trying to redirect the focus from your own insecurities by shining a light on other people’s imperfections.
“It can be very difficult to accept our bodies,” says Goldman. “A more balanced rephrase of this would be to decrease the judgement and comparison of others and focus on acceptance of self.”
8. “Could you maybe…”
Sometimes people think that inserting “maybe” into a request can convey politeness or respect, but it actually communicates a lack of confidence and insecurity. It makes you sound nervous and like you’re already anticipating a rejection.
“Although it is important to be polite, there are ways to be polite while simultaneously presenting yourself as confident,” says Haley Perlus, PhD.
For example, Perlus says you may be in a situation where you want to ask a coworker to read over an email before sending it out, but you see that your coworker is currently busy with another task.
Rather than asking, ‘Could you maybe read this over when you get the chance?’ You can say: “Whenever you get a chance, will you read this over before I send it out?’ Removing ‘maybe’ allows you to sound confident and sure of what you’re asking.”
9. “I would just…”
‘Just’ is another word that people think sounds friendly and polite but serves only to downplay your message and soften its impact. “For example,” says Perlus, “in the sentence ‘I would just like to follow up with you about this project I’m working on,’ the project’s importance is diminished.
Eliminating ‘just’ from the sentence and stating, ‘I would like to follow up with you about this project I’m working on’ gets the same message across; however, now you sound confident, and your conversational partner will view your project with seriousness and importance.”
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