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Beth Robinson

Great point. I struggle with the concept of reducing influence via language on a broader basis, mostly with providing qualifiers to my memory or knowledge, and this is a specific example that I hadn't seen before. A question - is "thank you for your time" still wimpy as a close? Does it matter if it's in person or in email? I ask because I use it extensively. I do see how using it as an opener loses you seconds of first impression/attention-grabbing time, though.

Chris Bonney

Great, great post. So, true. Even as a speaker I fall into this trap too often. Thanks for the reminder on how to keep our influence and leadership stance in tact. Congrats too on the leadership blog win!

Joe Raasch

Hi Steve,

I know you have a lot going on, so I'll make this quick. I just think that maybe leadership language is a concept some, if not many, people could be interested in.

Seriously, if you'll let me entertain this topic for a moment longer, I might be able to show you how best to make some potential changes in the way you might approach this topic.


Let's have MORE on "Leadership Language" please!




One of my biggest pet peeves on this topic is when ANYONE says: "Well, I'll be real honest with you" ....

(So...any other time, they're not?

Great job, Steve!

Maria | Never the Same River Twice

Another great post. I think that women have even more issues with this than men. We are socialized to be apologetic and demure.

I will check my language at my next presentation and eliminate weak language like this.

peter vajda

Hi, teve,

language and me...great topic

For me, much of the use of such "weak" language stems from the fact that no matter how smart and capable many of us are, we all have a seed of doubt, lack, deficiency and/or insecurity deep inside...it's a psychological factor of the human condition. We somehow feel undeserving, or lacking in our own self-worth and value.

Among the many defenses we use to feel good about ourselves is to play "small", and one way we do this is by (often unconsciously) "apologizing" in some way, shape or form for who we are or by being self-depricating in some manner...somehow thinking that by "apologizing" we'll get people to "like" us, i.e., approve us, be "OK" with us and so then, too, we can also like our selves.

Those who are truly secure in their own skins feel no need to play small or be invisible. They are who they are, warts and all and feel little need to "be liked". They appear before a group, authentically, do what they do, be who they are, personally an professionally, without apologizing, without shoring themselves up, or needing to diminish who they are in any way. Their security and sense of value and self-worth comes from within not from without...so they have no need to play any "role" whatsoever, or be anyone else than who they are.

Jackie Cameron

Absolutely Steve! I read this post after spending the day training a group of social workers on speaking skills. It is the nature of the training that some of the participants are very nervous. We give opportunities to speak in front of an audience from the start and usually early on someone will start with "I am very nervous..." and guess what ? The audience then focuses on you being nervous and not what you have to say. And then in the middle of a speech or presentation if something does not go to plan - who will know that except you. Pointing it out to the audience serves no purpose other than to draw attention to it.
So let's stop diminishing the value of what we have to say as per your examples and exude confidence ( real or fake) in mine.
Maybe you can detect that I am passionate about this....and the use of limiting language. But that's another topic.
Great thought provoking stuff as always, Steve. Thank you.

Prem Rao

I agree with you absolutely. Another one that puts me off is having someone say " I am not the best person to talk on this" at the start of his/her presentation.

I feel being self- deprecating really doesn't help. I have a post on this in my blog.


Enjoyed visiting your site. Thanks

Dan McCarthy

Steve –
Great topic!
Here’s another sign of a lack of “leadership presence”:
During a meeting, someone prefaces their question with “Can I ask a question?” Even worse if they timidly their hand.

Maryjo Bartsch

We so underestimate the power of words. My pet peeve is when service providers say "I'll try..." I don't want them to try, I want them to do! The comment about women in particular needing to sharpen their skills is absolutely true - read the classic "Talking From 9 to 5." As s Life Strategies and Leadership Coach I work with women clients to strengthen their communication skills having been in the corporate world for too many years I've seen it in action.

Steve Roesler


Re: the "Thank you" at the end, whether it's in person, email, etc.

Here's my rule of thumb:

a. If you are speaking/presenting or giving direction in an email, a call to action or a suggested next step is the way to close.

b. If someone has, in fact, provided you with something, then offer a "thank you" along with the specific reason for your gratefulness. I find that when I get a generic "thank you" and the reason isn't obvious, it seems a bit mushy.

Steve Roesler

Hey, Chris,

Thanks for checking in and the kind congrats.

Indeed, these traps apply to experienced speakers and novices alike. No one has the market cornered on bad habits. The only way I know of to break them is to bring them to the surface, call them for what they are, and let them serve as a reminder before our next meeting.

Steve Roesler


I don't know of many people who manage to light a fire under me better than you do. It's probably about time I acted on your suggestions:-)

This is one of those topics that I am very passionate about. Maybe it's time to act on expanding this in a way that can make a difference.

Steve Roesler

Maria, you are right on the money about the "women" factor. I become aware of it often in meetings.

Am going to give this some more thought and jot down examples before addressing it. The "demure" part rings true; there are probably other related factors as well.

Thanks for raising that as a legitimate issue.

Steve Roesler


Well, that was intended to be part of a follow-up post:-)

The psychology of this is fascinating. For some, it will lead to a new awareness that can make a difference in how one presents one's self.

Steve Roesler


Well, our similar backgrounds and passions have brought us to the same place with this topic.

Like you, I first became aware of it while conducting workshops for managers and execs to bump up their presentation delivery and design. Your example of "I'm nervous" was one of the first things I recall acting upon with participants. The fact is, you better be a bit "edgy" before starting or else you won't have enough adrenaline to keep your energy up and your mind alert. It's how you manage the adrenaline rush that makes the difference.

And yeah: unless you've passed out a script ahead of time, who knows what you missed?

Millions of presentations and speeches are made every day. Few people treat them with the same attention and care as they do their "pick-up lines" at the local pub.

Steve Roesler

Hello, Prem,

Yes, that's one I have also heard and it makes me feel the same way. I always wonder what the speech would have been like if the best person had been there! :-)

I appreciate the link to your resource and will have a look.

Steve Roesler

Dan, thanks for the additional example. I think we're beginning to rack up a collection of specifics that could lead to a post on "Great Wiener Moments" in business communication.

Perhaps we could get Oscar Mayer to subsidize a publication.

(I have just paused to reflect). Hmm. Maybe that could actually work!?

Steve Roesler


I had a look at your site and thoroughly enjoyed your real-life stories and your ability to ask the right kinds of thought-provoking questions that turn them into life lessons.

In between this post and heading out on a consulting project I was interviewed for the launch of a women's publication. The conversation led to "Steve, what do you think is important for upwardly mobile women to learn about business?"

My instant response was, "Stop being self-deprecating and, at the same time, stop trying to figure out what a man would say or do in the same situation. You got hired because you are good at something and you happen to be a woman. Stand there and be the person they hired."

What are you telling your client?


Remind me not to invite Mr. Roesler to any speeches I give. I think most of his points (perhaps I shouldn't say, "I think" as it may make me appear "weak") are a bit too much. Lighten up, Steve. Too many folks are rude, and many of your points are rude. So what if somebody uses five words to "take a moment of your time..." Jeez!

Steve Roesler


There are distinctions between "weak" and "respectful" that have been confirmed by other writers here as well as daily interaction with clients in the business community.

I would offer that it is "rude" to stand in front of a group of people and take up their time by filling a presentation with caveats. If that is what you are actually proposing as a "nice" way to interact, I cordially accept your non-invitation.


Thanks for the post. You are right - opening with an apologize doesn't endear you to the listener. I can remember prefacing my opinion during meetings with "this is probably a stupid idea but..." Gee - how much credibility did anything I say after that have?

I expanded on the idea over at Make or Break Moments: http://www.makeorbreakmoments.com/?p=45



One reason many people use these phrases is because they have heard so many others use them and have been led to believe they are appropriate - perhaps even expected - through example.

Ken Nicholas

Interesting viewpoints here...but just because you say 'these make you small'...does not mean everyone else out there agrees with you. In fact, yours could be seen as 'Mine is a cynical disposition.'

When done credibly, being seen by your client [or ad agency, or Purchasing agent, etc.] as being humble, modest, and/or respectful of their time can dramatically put you in a very POSITIVE light, due to the constant barrage of Sales/Mktg people that are anything but that. Doing so does not make you weak, any more than stating the truth about our current Iraq war somehow makes you 'unpatriotic'. [The opposite would be true, in my book.]

While you would value your perspective here, so do I; the many millions of dollars I've transacted over a career, from the local store on up to billion-dollar, global brand names, ensures this. Good dialogue & debate, though. Best, Ken

Steve Roesler


Well, I'm about the least cynical person I know.

In fact, genuine humility, modesty, and respect are, to me, the hallmarks of character and each a pillar of strength. The kind of barrage to which you refer represents the antithesis and falls into a category of *sales* that one can only hope to quickly escape.

Given the amount of debate here, I'll try one more time to differentiate:

a. There are self-deprecating remarks that undercut one's potential effectiveness: "I'm not prepared", "I don't know why I was chosen"...
followed by ongoing, apologetic prose.

b. There are self-deprecating remarks that reflect genuine humility and support one's effectiveness: "I'm not as prepared as I would like to be, as I was asked this morning to speak this afternoon. However, I have organized _____in a way that I believe will get us off to a good start." "I don't know exactly why I was chosen but it's given me a reason to do a lot of research into your company and how we might best do business together. Let me show you what I've discovered."

Those examples start off the same way. One set sends the message "And I'll muddle through it." The second: "I've made the best of it, so let's see how we can make something happen."

I hope those examples clearly reflect the underlying dynamics of each set of phrases.

Thanks for jumping in on this one, Ken.

Steve Roesler


You know, there's a lot to be said for that, especially in organizations.

When someone more senior starts using a word or phrase, it becomes a norm. Whether it makes any sense or not is inconsequential. It takes on a life of it's own.

Jeffrey Sarment


Can you slide another political comment in? Maybe a plug for Obama disguised as an example of one of your billion dollar transactions?


I just discovered your blog. This is the good stuff, not the fluff.

Steve Roesler

Jeffrey, welcome...looking forward to you hanging out and weighing in when you have a chance.


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