What I say vs. what you hear: how qualifying words hurt your impact

Posted on November 15, 2006. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

What I mean, what I say, and what you hear: is there ever a difference? Yes!


What do you hear when I say: “I kind of need your help. Do you think maybe you could give me a hand?”The answer is usually: you’re asking me for a favor. But what’s the sense of urgency you get from this message? None really.


When we use qualifying words—words that qualify the intensity or degree of a situation, we remove the intensity we hope to convey. Qualifying words, such as “kind of,” “think,” and “maybe” used in the example above, take what we mean to be a desperate situation and turn it into one that whimpers in a tiny voice. Not very effective for getting our point across.


I witnessed a client of mine–a director of a corporation–present a serious topic of discussion to his staff the other day. As he was speaking, I jotted down portions of his sentences that included qualifying language. Would you believe it? Virtually every sentence began with some sort of qualification. Here’s an example from the first two minutes of his talk:

Our hope is …

We intend to …

The plan is …

Our goal is …

What I’d like to see is …

We want to …

I think it might help the company if …

And then the icing on the cake: “The auditors kind of want us to go over fees with our clients.” WHAT? Auditors “kind of” want us to go over fees? That doesn’t sound like auditor talk to me. That sounds like weak language delivered by an executive who doesn’t understand the impact of that language on the staff he’s supposed to be leading. When he tells me he has trouble motivating a team, I can understand why. Who wants to follow this sort of leader? This guy needs to take a stand, say what he means, and set some expectations!


Get rid of the qualifying words and say what you mean. If you need help, ask for it. If you want someone to do something, tell them. Yes, you can be nice. Yes, you can deliver your message with respect and tact. Just remember, using qualifying words (can you pick them out above?) will degrade the quality of your delivery every time.


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One Response to “What I say vs. what you hear: how qualifying words hurt your impact”

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I kind of completely agree. Maybe.

Joking aside, I’ve seen many a persuasive argument completely derailed by qualifiers. People who are afraid of objections water down their content and make themselves sound like less of an authority.

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