You Don’t Say (an Oldie, but Goodie)

WRITTEN November 6, 2017 Author: Rich Atkins

Usually the Improving Communications emails and posts focus on what you CAN DO to improve your writing or your speaking.  But today we are going to focus on what NOT TO DO.   But do you know the things that should be on the You Don’t Say list?

When my daughter came home from her first day of high school I asked how her new teachers were, and (sounding just like me) she says “Good, but they have a lot of verbal tics.” That prompted me to pull out this classic email topic.  It is one of the first we ever sent out, and has been added to over the years. Discussed in previous IC posts was the fine art of cutting out verbal tics in speaking, but this list of what you “don’t say” crosses into both your public speaking and your writing skills.

When writing or speaking, AVOID using the following words and expressions.


But, however “But” or “however” negates what precedes it. Use “and” instead. (“Not to be rude, but …” means that you’re about to be rude.)
No, not, -n’t When possible, avoid negatives in communication. Say what something is, rather than what it isn’t. State what we can do, don’t say what we can’t do! This also applies to the offer: “If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me …” In this example, we would remove the words, “don’t hesitate to.”
Axe, aks Some people mispronounce the simple, three-letter word, “ask.” This is an unbelievable credibility killer. A prospect may be thinking of investing thousands of dollars in your company, and then hears the work “axe” instead of “ask”? If you can’t pronounce a three-letter word correctly, what else will you get wrong?
Actually, basically, you know Basically, these are filler words in speech, you know. They actually can be dropped, because they add no value to the message.
Obviously, as you know It sounds like these should be followed with “you idiot.” Avoid telling an audience the obvious or anything that they already know. It’s condescending.
I was like People who use this mean that they thought or stated something. (“I was like, ‘Wow.'” vs. “I said ‘Wow.'”)
Kind of, sort of Either it is or it isn’t. Adding “kind of” is just the adult way of saying “like.” (“This is like broken” or “This is kind of broken” or “This is like broken.”).
Unfortunately Starting a statement with this word warns your audience: “Prepare to not like what I’m about to tell you.” The messenger need not judge the news.
My name is This tells the audience that we are unfamiliar with each other. When calling your close friend, you wouldn’t say “my name is … .” Tell your recipient/listener that you have rapport by saying “This is ____ (name).”
Honestly, to be honest with you Tells your audience that you’ve been lying up until now.
Please advise, please be advised In writing, these push people away, because they’re not natural language. Instead of “please advise,” ask, “what do you think?” Drop “please be advised” altogether and start the sentence after where those words would have been placed.
No problem This means that in most cases, there would be a problem, but not now. Try the shorter equivalent: “Yes.”
Beginning with “Look” or “Listen” Sentences that start with these words usually won’t go well (don’t say unless you’re on a sightseeing tour or at a music venue).
Wha’ happen’? Some will substitute this substandard phrase to mean “What did you say?” “Pardon me? or “Excuse me?” are accurate and ask the right question.
Just (just a reminder), only (It’s only me) These phrases tell your audience that you/your message is insignificant. (Try these instead: “This is a reminder to … ” “It’s me.”)
Think, feel, believe Terms like these come off as wishy-washy. (“I feel like we need a new service contract.”) In business, we state facts. Among friends, however, and in friendly conversation, we can share our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.



This information is discussed in our Presentation Skills and Business Writing classes. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.


Photo Credit: jan lewandowski

Other Resources about Writing and Word Choice:



Using Concrete Words in Public Speaking (Video)

Effective Use of Language

The Importance of Word Choice

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

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