Own Your Words

I’ve always liked the saying “use your words.” We most often use it when speaking to children (or adults) who may be struggling with or avoiding verbalizing what it is they want or need. Because I believe wholeheartedly in the power of words and how we use them, I regularly preach the importance of making every word we say or write count. That includes not just word choices but also the delivery. So for the sake of this post, I’d like to amend use your words to own your words.  And here’s why …

Over the course of my 20+ year career, I’ve sat in my fair share of leadership and team meetings. The dynamics of these meetings are always interesting—people jockeying for air time, everyone hoping to prove their value with a novel idea or strategic statement.

Depending on the make-up of those in the room—company seniority, professional experience, area of focus, and yes, gender—being heard challenges anyone who lacks complete confidence in the accuracy of their insight or the value of their contribution to the conversation. I’ll contend this happens when we fail not to use our words, but to “own” them.

Too many times I (or others around me) fell victim to what I call the “I think” curse. When we allow doubt, fear or even overactive modesty to take hold, inevitably we’ll use words and phrases in our communications that lessen the authority and impact of what we are saying. And as a result, lessen its perceived value. This goes for both verbal and written communications.

Take this easy test. Next time you’re in a leadership meeting, team discussion, a sales or client presentation, even responding to work email, note all the times where you begin a sentence with “I think” or “I feel” or even the all-too-common “It might.” I think (see what I did there) you’ll be surprised how frequently it happens.

It seems counterintuitive at first. In personal communications with friends and loved ones, we strive for a softer, more emotional tone and delivery. But in business communication—particularly where you’re fighting to have your opinion, offer or expertise acknowledged—a matter-of-fact style goes much farther in achieving your goal.

Consider the difference in these statements:

  1. “I think it would be a good idea to test the campaign with a customer segment.”
  2. “Testing the campaign with a customer segment will give us better validation overall.”
  1. “It might make sense to give you a demo of the new product functionality.”
  2. “A demo of the new product functionality can answer any questions you may have.”

It’s a subtle difference but clearly noticeable, both to your audience and yourself—and that’s key. When you hear yourself communicate with bold, concise statements versus limp suggestions, there’s an internal shift that happens. When you own your words, you’ll find you won’t need to use so many … and most importantly, there’s a sustained inner confidence in what you have to say and the value it carries.

Of course, there is an obvious difference between owning your words and being a jerk. No one likes a know-it-all or a blowhard. We’ve all experienced those. It is absolutely possible to communicate with greater assurance while remaining completely approachable. The key to striking the balance is authenticity. Remove the “I thinks” and instead speak thoughtfully what you know to be true. In short, own it.