In one week, I’ve dramatically improved my professional communication skills.
Yes, I know, that’s a big claim—but it’s true. And the best part is that the changes I made were simple. I cut three words from my vocabulary: “actually,” “sorry,” and “me.”
My inspiration for getting rid of “actually” was Carolyn Kopprasch, Chief Happiness Officer at Buffer, who wrote a great blog post on the word.
Turns out that when I use “actually,” it’s usually because I’m correcting someone. The proof is in a recent email I sent to my editor.
Erin: That wording felt a little misleading, so I changed it.
Me: Actually, I pulled that sentence from the [company] website!
It’s not an awful response, but a better one would’ve been:
Thanks for your feedback! I used that sentence because I found it on their site.
The second communicates the same info while sounding more respectful and friendly.
“Actually” Alternatives: Definitely, got it, I see, great point, makes sense, understandable
I try to stay away from saying “sorry” in situations that don’t merit it: when I make a tiny mistake, when I state my opinion, or when someone points out something I missed.
However, now I’m not even using “sorry” during those times I’ve truly messed up. Instead, I’m saying, “I apologize.”
Because “sorry” is so overused, it tends to feel flippant and non-genuine. “I apologize,” on the other hand, is said rarely enough that it still carries a lot of weight. When I use it, people know what I’m saying is heartfelt.
Last week, I blanked on an important meeting. When my boss asked what happened, I didn’t say, “Sorry, I forgot!” I said, “I apologize—it totally slipped my mind. From now on, I’ll check my Google Calendar as soon as I get to my desk in the morning so that doesn’t happen again.”
Note: I didn’t just apologize, but I laid out my plan for avoiding making the same mistake again in the future. It goes a lot further than just, “Sorry, it won’t happen again.”
“Sorry” Alternatives: You’re right, I apologize, Going forward I will…, I understand why you’re upset
It’s not just the word “me” I wanted to avoid. It was everything “me” represents—being internally focused, rather than concentrating on how I can help the people I interact with every day.
Here’s an email I was going to send, before I realized it had the off-limits word:
When you have a moment, could you please send me the info on next Wednesday’s campaign launch? I want to double-check a couple details before it goes live.
Here’s the re-written version:
When you have a moment, could you please send over next Wednesday’s campaign info? Double-checking a couple details before it goes live to make sure the client is happy!
While editing this message, I got rid of “I” as well. Reducing my use of “me” words forces me to focus on how what I’m doing is benefiting our mission and company as a whole, which ultimately makes my communication more effective (and the person receiving it more receptive).
“Me/Myself/I” Alternatives: You, us, we, the team, our company, our department
Did getting rid of these rude words work for you? Let us know on Twitter!
Photo of people on laptops in modern office courtesy of Compassionate Eye Foundation/Gary Burchell / Getty Images.