9 words and phrases that make any professional look weak

Danny Rubin, Contributor
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Confidence is a powerful tool to gain respect and get stuff done.

As you compose emails and documents (and in conversation too), remove these words and phrases from your vocabulary. They make you look weak.

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1. Just

"I just want to ask you..."
"It'll just take a minute..."
"I'm just saying...

Weak, weak, weak. "Just" is a little word with big implications. Each time we use "just," it suggests we waste someone's time. No, if you have something important to say, then say it.

Well, anyway, it's just a writing tip.

See how that sounds? Weak.

2. Sorry

Don't apologize all over the place. In most cases, you didn't do anything wrong. "Sorry" is more like "Sorry for bothering you" or "Sorry for taking up your time."

Of course, if you did screw up, then you should say "Sorry."

But if you have worthwhile information to send in an email or say aloud, then go for it. Respect yourself and the value you add to the conversation.

3. I'm not sure if you can, but...

Such an inferior tone. As if the other person is SO important and SO busy that you need to kneel down and beg for assistance.

How about "Would you like to..."?

Stay on equal footing with the person across from you. You're no worse (or better). Eye to eye is the way to play it.

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4. I hate to bother you, but...

Similar to No. 3, "I hate to bother you, but..." connotes the other person has all the power in the relationship. Even if you're an intern, new hire or several years junior to someone at the company, you have every right to stand proudly and say, "When you have a minute, I'd like your opinion on..."

And let me tell you, plenty of business execs can "suddenly" find 15 minutes in their jam-packed schedules if someone wants their opinion. Maybe even 30 minutes or an hour.

5. I hope that's OK

Don't give up authority in the conversation — you have the same rights to the territory. Instead, go with "Thanks for the consideration" or "I appreciate the help."

Here are four "weak" writing habits specific to managers and other leaders in an organization.

6. Using the passive voice 

Passive voice is perhaps the weakest way to communicate with your employees. You must be willing to stand by your decisions, and the best way is to put yourself ("I") at the start of the sentence.

Example: "The new rule on vacation days has been put in place by me"

Correction: "I have put in place a new rule on vacation days."

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7. Putting your call to action or request at the bottom of the message

Timid managers wait until the last line of an email or document to explain what they need employees to do. It's a subtle way to say, "I'm afraid to give orders or be in charge."

Instead, put the directive high up in the message. Employees will see the information right away, and your message will have a more assertive tone.

As an example:

"Hi team,

I'm writing to remind everyone to have their fourth-quarter reports on my desk by 5 p.m. on Friday. Remember the report must include…"

Start strong, and employees will take notice.

8. More words = less respect

A boss who communicates with brevity commands a certain level of authority. That doesn't mean you should write with a terseness that feels cold and emotionless.

The best leaders write with enthusiasm and an economical word count. It's a skill that must be practiced every day by managers.

Whoops, there goes the passive voice again.

Managers must practice the skill every day.

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9. Misspelling an employee's first or last name

Want an easy way to lose an employee's respect? Spell his or her name wrong in an email or document.

Want to ruin the relationship for the long-term? Spell the name wrong more than once.

Before you press send, make sure the names are 100 percent correct. These are the people who put in the hours for you day after day. If you repeatedly type "John" instead of "Jon," it's more than a "weak" approach.

It's a clear lack of respect.

Well, I hope you like my advice. If not, sorry for the trouble!

Your words set the tone. Use them wisely.

Danny Rubin is an author and speaker on business communication skills. Learn more about his award-winning book, Wait, How Do I Write This Email?, a collection of 100+ templates for networking/job search. Follow him on Twitter at @DannyHRubin.

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