Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

This One Word's Killing Your Credibility at Work—Here's How to Stop Saying It

“Hey, can I give you some quick feedback about that meeting?” my co-worker asked.

We’d just walked out of a particularly discussion-heavy session, and since I’d made a couple great points, I figured she was about to praise them.

“Sure!” I said.

“You had some good contributions…” she began, “but you really need to stop saying ‘like.’ It’s totally undermining your credibility.”

I sighed. My “like” problem was not new to me—and judging by the number of times I heard other people say it, not unique to me, either.

However, her comment made me realize I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I decided I’d try a one-month experiment to completely rid my speech of “like.” Each week, I’d focus on a different use case. Here’s how it went.

Week 1: Action Verbs

I commonly use “like” instead of action verbs, like “said,” or “responded,” and so on. For my first week, I focused on swapping the two.

Compare these statements:

“He was like, ‘That’s feasible, as long as we have a 36-hour window.’”

“He replied, ‘That’s feasible, as long as we have a 36-hour window.’”

The second sounds far more professional and polished—all thanks to a single word. Plus, research shows that the more specific our language is, the more impact it has on our audience.

More Alternatives: said, responded, answered, emailed, wrote back, announced, yelled, whispered, declared, observed, commented, noted, added, suggested

Week 2: Moods and Attitudes

I also habitually use “like” to describe an attitude or emotion.

For example: “And I was like, a little annoyed, because…”

Just reading that makes me cringe, but I say similar things all the time.

So during week two, I eradicated the “like” in mood statements, jumping straight from “I was…” or “I felt…” to my emotion: excited, tired, miffed, and so forth.

More Alternatives: was, seemed, acted as though, reacted

Week 3: Comparisons and Examples

Saying “like” to compare two (or more) things is actually a legitimate use. However, when you’re trying to stop saying “like,” it’s easier to banish it completely.

So, I decided to use more formal phrases, such as, well, “such as” and “for example.”

Take this sentence:

“I found a few errors in this report. Like in this column, you entered…”

“I found a few errors in this report; for example, in this column…”

More Alternatives: that is, as proof, look at, similar to, equivalent to, analogous to, comparable to, reminiscent of, it reminded me of

Week 4: Filler

“Like” is by far the most pervasive (in my vocabulary, at least) as a filler word. When I’m thinking out loud, I’ll punctuate my sentences with “likes.”

But when you listen to highly competent public speakers, you’ll notice they rarely say like. If they’re trying to find the right words, they’ll pause instead.

I followed suit. While this meant it took me longer to deliver my sentences, those thoughts came across as more thoughtful and intelligent.

And when I absolutely needed a filler, I tried to default to “ah.” Something about “ah” sounds a little more professorial than “like.”

If you don’t believe me, say these two snippets out loud:

“Maintaining a strong Twitter presence is important because, like, we…”

“Maintaining a strong Twitter presence is important because, ah, we…”

See? While ideally, you wouldn’t use any fillers, “ah” is still better than “like.”

The Results

By the time the month was up, I’d stopped saying “like” around 98% of the time. OK, that’s an estimate, but a lot. I kept waiting for my co-worker to say something—but she didn’t seem to notice.

Then, after one meeting, she followed me out and said, “Hey! Your comments about the contractor portal were really good.”

“Thanks!” I replied.

“And they were even better because you didn’t say ‘like.’”

Mission accomplished.

Photo of meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.