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10 Phrases which Subtly Suggest You’re Powerless at Work

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You have the job title, you have the Ferragamo loafers. You like to stand with your hands on your hips and your legs apart. You often invade other people’s personal space and you talk in the sort of high pitched voice with tonal modulations which is said to convey authority at work. But what you say also matters. However powerful your general demeanor, it will all be to no avail if you say things like, “He really did very well at this task.”

In a new article published in the International Journal of English Studies, Academics at the University of Murcia have helpfully assembled a list of phrases that indicate workplace powerlessness.

They are as follows:

1. “Sort of, kind of, pretty much…”

Words that make things fuzzy or fuzzier than they would otherwise seem. These words will make it seem that you lack the courage of your convictions.

2. “Isn’t it?”

Questions that bring a listener into a discussion and seek their validation. These words will make it seem that you need external approbation in order to get by.

3. “He really did, very”

Statements that assert your conviction and express an overly positive tone. These words will make it seem that you need to express your point in the strongest possible terms for it to be heard.

4. “Yes, sir; thank you very much.”

Deferential and formal ways of addressing people. These words will make it seem that are so far down the pecking order that you resort to antiquated formalities to inveigle your way into the conversation.

5. “Well, ah, uh, aww, uhhh, I, um, don’t know…”

Hesitations and uncertainties. While these are typical of non-English speakers, these words can also indicate lack of clarity of thought and an inability to express yourself in the presence of more powerful persons.

6. “I thought this was a brilliant strategy with the potential for brilliant outcomes.”

Frequent repetition of the same words as a filler. These words will make you seem intellectually inferior.

7. “I was given the opportunity to carry out this task.”

Distancing techniques to suggest you were not directly involved in the action. These words will make it seem that you were not entirely responsible for the tasks you carried out.

8. “If I’m not wrong, I hate to do this, I’m not an expert…”

Any disclaimers that reduce the certainty of a statement. You may think these words make you sound modest, in fact they make you sound timid.

9. “I guess, I suppose, I reckon…”

Anything that suggests you’re not committed to the statement you’re making. These words will make you sound flaky.

10. “It seems to me, it looks like, it looks as if…” 

‘Personalized epistemic modals’. Used to convey personal evaluation and to render the utterance less threatening, these words will suggest you are not in a position to express your own opinion in a straightforward fashion.

–Sarah Butcher

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