10 words that draw attention to your insecurities

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This article belongs to John Brandon, business columnist for Time magazine, in which he tells how we transmit to others our self-doubt and how to avoid it.

10 words that draw attention to your insecurities

This month I got 972 e-mails — about the same as in the past. That’s not counting the hundreds of emails that Gmail dumped into separate folders — replies to my messages, update social networks and advertising junk.

I mastered the art of navigation in mail (by pressing “skip” and “forward”), but there is one thing in which I succeeded even more — I have learned to recognize the lack of self-confidence.

In most cases, someone is trying to tell me about your product or calling a journalist with a request to comment on the issue related to my professional area — marketing. Sometimes there are “cold calls” from people I don’t know, and I only need a few moments to understand is call the specialist or my room was just in a database, issued to the employee.

Often they report that “in General” doing something. Sometimes someone talks about a business idea which “expected” shot. There are also some quite timid calls and letters, which make me doubt, whether a speaker understands a little bit about what we’re talking about.

How do I determine that? There are words with which you can easily understand how a person is confident in their competence and in the quality of the product he wants to sell you. If they are present in the letter, for me it is a clear signal that something is wrong. Since even the sender is not confident in his product or idea, I certainly do not waste time on it.

I can

Do not rush to tell people that “can” do something. No one is asking you to make peace worldwide and to specific questions about doable things better not answer “I can do X”, and “do X”. When you promise that you will be able to finish the report by the deadline, it sounds like you are trying to convince yourself — and, therefore, doubt your skills, don’t know how to use time or you have better things to do.


A word that definitely should be avoided in business correspondence. Anyone who says that “it is unlikely that they will do something” or “unlikely to come to the meeting,” causes an instant dislike to. Accept the offer or refuse it, explaining the cause and will look more advantageous as compared with a “polite” mumble, which only increases the uncertainty.

Generally / usually

Through this word of the addressee it becomes apparent that you have on hand is not enough evidence or you resort to comforting delusion. When you write that accounting “in General” did not approve your expense report or that the head is “usually” late to work, it says that you are exaggerating or downplaying the truth.

I suspect

If you are not an investigator from the Prosecutor’s office, stop anything “suspect”. Don’t hide behind a fog of words, speak directly. A reliable source reported that the investor was preparing to leave the project? You have specific facts that justify your new marketing plan? So tell me.


I bet mark Zuckerberg has never used the word “impossible” in the mail. After this response, the receiver immediately stops believing in you. Instead of just telling people why it would be difficult to perform or simply refuse to comply with the proposed scheme. But don’t waste people’s time by reporting something that’s “impossible.”

It bothers me

We are all worried about something. Telling about his concern in the email, you are forcing the recipient to doubt your competence. Do not report about their emotions — just outline potential problems and offer solutions.

I doubt

A story about doubt leads to more doubt. Better to just ask to clarify a question you do not understand, or to present their arguments against it. When you write that “I doubt”, it seems that you are either not versed in the subject, or you don’t.


We all need something. The habit of using that word in the letters makes you a meanie in the eyes of colleagues. “Need” you to come to work early, “need” you to finish the report. Why? Avoid that word and just say, “please come tomorrow an hour early, so we could look at the report before meeting with the client.”


Sent a letter, using in it the word “complexity” or “difficulty”? It means that you are a loser, staying at a loss. This is not the tone with which to start a business proposal or request fundraising — no one wants to communicate with those who are failing.


Few of us are professionally engaged in predictions of the future. Using the word “probably”, you give the impression of someone hardly versed in the subject and do not have the necessary facts to make a claim. “Probably,” you are too confident about yourself and your business.