When you’re the CEO, how you say something is every bit as important as what you’re saying.
Communication from the top has to be clear, concise, and inspirational if you want to motivate your team and attract more customers.
Here are 5 common phrases that might be muddling your message. Delete them from your vocabulary before your key business relationships start tuning you out.
“I like what you did here. But …”
This is a pet peeve of one of my favorite business authors, Marshall Goldsmith. Whether you’re intending to give positive or negative feedback, the word “but” in certain phrases instantly negates whatever you said before it.
“That’s a good idea, but …” But, it’s really not a good idea, or I wouldn’t be qualifying what I just said.
“I don’t really like this design, but …” But I’m letting you off the hook and showing you how little I really care about you and this task.
It’s amazing how simply cutting “but” from these kinds of phrases completely changes their impact.
“That’s a good idea. What if we tweaked it a little and …”
See the difference? You’re not negating your first point, you’re keeping the dialogue positive, and you’re working in your corrections all at once.
“Let me be honest with you …”
Which begs the question, “You WEREN’T being honest with me before?”
The phrasing here is bad, but actually the intention is good. Building trust is an important part of any professional relationship, especially at the beginning. And one way to connect with that client or potential hire is to surprise them with a hit of honesty they might not be expecting.
For example, tell that rock star you’re dying to hire, “You know, about a year ago, I realized I wasn’t doing enough to foster an enthusiastic culture. Then I did X, Y, and Z, and now our employee net promoter numbers are through the roof.”
Tell that prospect who could boost your business to the next level, “You might have heard we had some kinks in our supply chain last quarter, but we’ve invested in our infrastructure because we want to work with businesses like yours.”
Start the relationship with that kind of transparency, and you’ll never have to say, “let me be honest again.” The people you’re talking to will take your honesty as a given.
“Amazingly super fantastic!”
If you aren’t enthusiastic about your business, no one else will be either. But your enthusiasm has to be authentic, both to you as a person and to the brand you’re trying to broadcast to the rest of the world.
Lay it on too thick, and your employees and customers are going to be suspicious, especially if they all know that you’re just burying your head in the sand, hoping for a major crisis to pass.
March into your next board meeting armed with a bunch of shiny buzz words you copied out of Forbes Magazine, and you won’t look like the smartest guy in the room – you’ll look like the most desperate.
Do a bad imitation of an always-on CEO at an industry conference, and you’ll be tomorrow’s top internet meme.
By contrast, if you be yourself, and tell a genuine story that employees and customers will want to be a part of, enthusiasm is going to spread like wildfire.
“Uh … Like … Umm … You know?”
When CEO Coaching Summit speaker Kim Scott of Radical Candor worked at Google, she reported to Sheryl Sandberg (now at Facebook). After delivering a presentation Kim thought she’d knocked out of the park, Sheryl asked her to take a walk. She mentioned that Kim said “um” a lot when speaking. Was she nervous? Would she be interested in taking some speaking lessons? Kim was so happy with the presentation that she wasn’t really listening. Sheryl noticed:
“You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say ‘um’ every third word, it makes you sound stupid.”
Glad someone else said this so I don’t have to!
“Uh” and “Um” are filler words, phrases we spit out, often unconsciously, when we’re trying to figure out what to say next. Sometimes we fall back on filler when we’re talking too fast or feeling nervous. Maybe we’ve lost our train of thought and are trying to get it back on track.
Unfortunately, your audience isn’t going to be sympathetic. They’re going to think the same thing Sheryl Sandberg thought, or that you’re just not well-prepared for this talk.
All CEOs need top-notch communication skills to run their businesses effectively. If you have any ambitions of speaking at industry conferences or getting interviewed by professional media, hire a speaking coach who will drum the ums and all these other bad phrases right out of you.
“I just need you to …”
“Just” is another little word that can do a lot of hurt in the wrong context.
“I just need you to do X” tells the employee that task X isn’t very important. By extension, that employee will feel you don’t value him or her very much either. This task will “just” get done – not at the highest level of the employee’s ability, and not in any way that might surprise you or lead you to new and better processes.
“I just need you to do X” tells your partner or c-suite colleague that you know better than they do, that their extra effort isn’t appreciated, that they’re stepping on your toes.
If you, as CEO, have used the annual planning process to determine what actionable, measurable tasks are necessary to achieve your goals, then every one of the tasks you assign is important.
Again, look at the difference when you eliminate one word from these phrases:
“I need to you to lead this project.”
Not “just lead,” as if leading wasn’t that important. And not “just this project,” as if the project wasn’t that vital either.
No matter how big or how small the task really is, your employee will feel empowered to hit that target right in the bullseye.
By eliminating one little word, you’ve made a BIG improvement to how your company communicates, executes, and grows.
Take a Moment.
Take a moment and commit to erasing these common communication blunders from your vocabulary. Making these seemingly small changes to phrases you use will make a BIG impact on you and your team’s results.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 170 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s from over 20 countries on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, becoming better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 350 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 20 different countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from $20 million to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for 4 years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 40.1% during their time as a client, more than four times the national average. Additionally, clients have averaged 210% growth in profit while working with the firm. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com