008 5 Words to Never Use

Language is a fascinating subject for study since it is the primary means by which we humans communicate.

And, as I’ve been emphasizing in my last few posts, the diversity of knowledge we communicate, and the way in which we do it, are direct measures of the success we will achieve in life.

In today’s post, I want to continue in this vein by discussing five words we should delete almost entirely from our vocabulary.  I say “almost” because, as I’ll point out below, we can sometimes purposely break the rules to subtly imply an opposite effect from that which we are actually saying (as with the word “but”).  

This ability to use words in different ways is just one nuance of advanced English.


008 Featured Resource


Our discussion once again has bearing on the ability to be a positive influence on others while presenting ourselves as a reliable and credible source.  It specifically amplifies the power, and thus importance, of our Word Choice, which was one of the three topics discussed in our previous post.

So if you’re ready, let’s dive in!


1.   Can’t

When a person says to you “I just can’t do this.” you may be sure he is implying one of two meanings.  Either he doesn’t know how, or he just doesn’t want to!  Generally, it’s up to us to suss out which one it actually is.

Let’s examine each of these two inferences.

We’ve all experienced the momentary loss of confidence in our ability to carry out a task.  Usually, this stems from a lack of information that can easily shake our self-confidence.  So rather than risk failure, we opt for the simple way out and say “I can’t”.

If we can accept this weakness in ourselves by overcoming our own ego (that wants to assume we know everything), then the proper response would be “I don’t know how, but this looks like a great opportunity to learn!”

The knowledge of the world is available online to everyone through the modern day miracle of Google and YouTube.  In addition, we can read books, find mentors, and associate with those who have already succeeded at that which we, as yet, have not.

If the response (with this meaning) comes from another person, then it’s our responsibility to step in and provide the information that that person needs.

Either with ourselves, or with another person, there is always a way to turn a “can’t” into a “can and will do”.

So, the next time you or your client are tempted to shy away from something due to lack of knowing how, I would challenge you to face it head on.  Remember the words of that great 19th Century English novelist, Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the pen name George Eliot,


If, on the other hand, you hear the words “I can’t” and the silent message is “I don’t want to”, then it’s up to us to find out why.  What does that individual really want?  Certainly in any business relationship, our goal is to serve others and ensure they receive what is needed.

Smart sales people take the long view.  That means helping the client, even to the point of recommending someone else’s product!  Actively demonstrating that satisfying their need comes before our need to sell creates a level of trust that few people will forget.

The most important secret of salesmanship is to find out what the other fellow wants, and then find the best way to help him get it!­     – Frank Bettger

 008 Editorial Note


So, in summary, by removing this word from our own vocabulary, we inspire the confidence and positive attitude that others desperately seek. By recognizing the true meaning and defusing it within the conversation of others, we help them to find confidence and turn their “can’t” into “can and will do”.

Always a win-win situation!


2.   Try

In 1980, George Lucas introduced us to Yoda, the futuristic Jedi master warrior and philosopher, through his classic Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back.

Yoda’s broad-sweeping advice to the young discouraged Luke Skywalker was the now oft-repeated admonishment, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

It’s a fact that many of my associates regard “try” as the new word for “lie”!

Take for instance, the statement “I’ll try to phone you tomorrow”.  Notice how these words give the speaker implied permission not to call!  In essence, it makes it easy for them to fail… without consequence.  “But I tried…”

As Master Yoda instructs, we must learn to substitute the word “do” for “try”.

The best response if we are told “I’ll try to phone you tomorrow” is this.  “Does that mean you will call tomorrow, or would Thursday be better?”

Notice that while our response forces a decision about “tomorrow”, it kindly provides an alternate solution (which also BTW, is a firm commitment).  In this way, we help the person clarify their own meaning, and by so doing, receive a commitment that is more likely to be honored.

The reason we do well to delete this word from our vocabulary is because of the damaging effect it has on our relationship with others.

Failure to meet an expectation breaks rapport with the person to whom we have implied that expectation. When we suggest that we will… and then don’t, our level of reliability comes into question. This will happen regardless of our qualifier phrase, “I’ll try”.

Remember that in a world of uncertainty, one who makes – and keeps – commitments will always stand out from the crowd.


3.   But

“I really want to make a million dollars – BUT it’s hard work!”

“But” is one of those strange little words in English that can be used as a conjunction, preposition, adverb, or even a noun!  And while it has its uses in these other forms, it’s when used as a conjunction that we must be careful – to the point of deletion.

The reason is that “but” as a conjunction (as used in our opening sentence) has the insidious habit of negating everything that went before it!  It’s a word that signals there’s something to be overcome rather than enjoyed.  A negative rather than a positive.

“It’s a beautiful day – BUT it’s going to rain.”

I’ve found that in conversation, the trick with “but” is to consciously substitute something that can turn a negative connotation into a positive.  We do that by using other conjunctive words like “and” or “yet”.

“And” is an additive word; an inclusive word.  It engenders a friendly response since it joins things together.  So in this case, we can enjoy both the beautiful day – and – we can celebrate and enjoy the rain. 

A two for one deal!

How much more positive does it sound to say “It’s a beautiful day – AND – it’s going to rain.”  Even if at first this sounds a bit awkward (because rain might ruin my plans), reflecting on the bigger picture subliminally reminds us how rain is beneficial to all the little plants and flowers we enjoy.

Thus, we can help people feel more upbeat simply by substituting a simple little 3-letter word! 

(Isn’t language amazing?)

Now, here’s a tip on using Advanced English!

Since WE know that “but” will negate whatever comes before it, we can use that knowledge to purposely and subtly erase in the mind of our recipient all that we’ve just said!  In this way, “but” functions as an ally in our argument of promoting what the client needs.

“Of course, you can opt for the smaller model – BUT it will not have the safety features we discussed.”

In this example, we are agreeing with the client in the first part, yet also reminding them in the second part of what it is they will be missing.  (Notice how I just used “yet” to link those two items together.)


4.   If

“If” is another one of those little conjunctive words.

In its most frequent use, it implies uncertainty; as in “if that… then.” Uncertainty because the “if” part of our statement is generally beyond our control.  Whenever it’s important to portray ourselves as being in control, we therefore need to avoid this word.

Being in control, at least of our own selves, is a direct measure of self-confidence, and thus, of the confidence others will have in us.  By now you recognize the pattern that any words which bring that confidence into question should be used with caution, if not deleted entirely.

Imagine a realtor saying to you “If we can find you the home that you want…”  Does that instill confidence in her ability?  Contrast instead the more competent image we would have by hearing the phrase “When we find you the home that you want…”

Once again, substitution of a single word – “when” for “if” – changes a person’s entire image in the mind of the listener.


5.   Problem

The problem with the word “problem” is that the meaning implies a task that is insurmountable!

Seldom is anything in life insurmountable!  There is always a way, even if it takes more than we are willing to invest.

A much better word to have in our lexicon is “challenge”.

Most people actually enjoy rising to a challenge, because of the very fact they are surmountable!  And, when we overcome a challenge, do we not all experience a feeling of pride and accomplishment?

Say for example, someone says to a photocopier salesperson, “I have a “problem” with your photocopier”, we can soften the emotions of frustration and anger by saying, “What seems to be the ‘challenge’”?

Of course, it is then our responsibility to address the situation as best we can for the client.  Once again, it is a case of “if that… then”.

The first steps when approaching someone with a “problem”, whether client or personal friend, is to fully assess the situation.  Ask questions and clearly recreate in your mind the circumstances that led to them viewing this as a “problem”.  And then, develop a series of steps, or bite-size “challenges”, which individually can be overcome.

Remember, how do you eat an elephant?

So once again, by simply substituting a single word, a potentially painful, frustrating, or even volatile situation can be defused.  Remember that while people don’t want more problems in their life, they are more willing to accept challenges.

It’s up to us to show them how.


Closing Comments

As you’ve no doubt noticed, one characteristic common to each of these five words is an implied permission to fail.  Each word seemingly puts something beyond our control.

Yet to portray ourselves as successful individuals, we must be willing to accept as much control of situations as humanly possible.  One way to do that is to adopt the habit of always speaking positively and with confidence.

If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to download the Free Gift available at NSR Development dot com.  This is a 19 minute discussion of three lessons which I’ve excerpted from my book A Guide to Living Successfully. “Speak no negative” is one of these three.

The psychology of ways by which we influence others is a fascinating study, and I think it appropriate to end today’s discussion with a book recommendation.  When it comes to this subject, I know of no better authority than Dr. Robert Cialdini.  His classic work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion should unquestionably be required reading for anyone serious about understanding personal success.

I’d even go so far as to say that his “Six Weapons of Influence”, which are based on clinical research, are the most ground-breaking work in this subject since Dale Carnegie published his well-known book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Both books are referenced below.

So, there you have it.  Five words to definitely avoid, if not totally delete from your personal and business language.  Now it’s your turn!  Are there other words you might suggest that perhaps have caused problems in your life?

Use the comment section below to tell us about them.  And where possible, give us a better word that you’ve learned to substitute that can resolve the issue.

I’ll look forward to reading your ideas!


PS101 power of words



          Robert Cialdini – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion       

          Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People


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