Have you ever been in a meeting when someone says something that makes you cringe? Worse yet, have you ever been the person saying that cringe-worthy thing? Yes, we’ve all been in both roles. I’ve said some real doozies. Some were comments that I meant seriously—and I was seriously wrong. Some were attempts at humor that became more evidence I’m no comedian. Some were comments to prove I just wasn’t thinking at the moment. King Solomon had it right when he wrote, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23, ESV).
There are countless things we can say wrong in a meeting, a one-on-one check-in, casual conversation, or any other personal interaction. It takes great discipline to measure and assess your words before they are spoken. It’s a skill I’m working on and have a long way to go.
Here are five common statements I’ve heard in one setting or another that should usually be avoided.
In my opinion…
In most strategic or business settings, opinions have little if any weight. In fact, these three words are essentially a black hole of credibility. Whatever follows “In my opinion…” will have reduced credibility! Say the same thing without the preface and the words might be received as wisdom and insight.
“In my opinion, the Acme proposal is a better fit for our strategic direction.”
“The Acme proposal is a better fit for our strategic direction.”
The first draws attention to the speaker and invites criticism. The second draws attention to the proposal and its merits.
Historically, we’ve done this because…
…followed by a justification for maintaining the status quo. Unless the focus of the discussion is actually on the historical background of something, these kinds of statements are momentum suckers. They are the antithesis of what leaders should be doing—moving the organization forward.
I know all about that.
Leaders are listeners. They invite information and are open to ideas—even ones that appear to be bad at the outset. “I know all about that” betrays closed-mindedness and arrogance. A better statement is, “I have some familiarity with that, but I believe you can give me additional insight from your perspective.”
I don’t think we’ll need their input on this.
A variation on this is, “I didn’t bother to ask them.” This is very similar in spirit to “I know all about that,” but it is more egregious in actively dismissing stakeholders’ input. I recognize it is impossible to get everyone’s input on every aspect of every issue. That’s just not the real world. However, on the continuum of getting “all input” to getting “no input,” most leaders err too far toward the no input end.
There is an endless stream of research backing the principle that employees who feel heard are more engaged and committed.
When I worked at…
Well, you don’t work there any longer, and the rest of us in the room certainly don’t either. Is this really relevant?
This can be a tricky one. Leaders are often hired, at least in significant part, for their experience and expertise from work in previous organizations. So what is the safe way to communicate wisdom from that experience and expertise? Start by creating a couple points of connection between your past and current work, then share the point:
- At Widget Industries, we also had a problem with succession planning. (Establish the common context.)
- We had a highly talented team of individual contributors but no real strategy to prepare them for leadership. (State the same issue you have with your current team.)
- However, we found good success with the XYZ model. (Make your point.)
So, you’re still saying, “When I worked at…” but in a more strategic, professional way.
That’s a short list of things I’ve heard recently in various settings. Every situation is different and as a leader you need to constantly evaluate what you’re about to say. As I said, I’m no model for this. I’m always improving in this skill.
What about you? What are things you’ve heard that make you yawn or cringe?
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.