12 Phrases Entrepreneurs Must Avoid

Every industry has its own jargon. It is commonly known to be unadvisable to use those terms outside of that field or people understand what you are talking about. Beyond jargon, there are other things that people should not say if they want to reach their potential. The things we say can have a profound impact not only on those we say them to but also to ourselves.

The meeting that made my blood boil

Have you ever experienced a moment when you just knew you were destined to be a successful entrepreneur?

For me, it was about 10 years ago when I was working as assistance project coordinator for a mining company; in what I would call the cliché meeting.

I remember walking into this meeting, grabbed my bottle of water, and looked around the table at my teammates. The boss walked in and started, “All right everybody, we have to start thinking outside the box.” Just there, I knew that I could communicate with more meaning than he did, so my mind was tempted to drift away as I counted his catchphrases and clichés.

At the end of the meeting, he said, “Thank you in advance and good luck!” 

I felt my stomach turn. I was successful at holding it in. But I remember blurting out as polite as I could be, “Luck has nothing to do with it.” I couldn’t hide my feeling of insult on that one. My team members thanked me all day for coming to the defense of their skills. I never let on that my remarks were due to my lack of control. Empty phrases make me angry; I expect better from leaders.

Words have deeper meanings

Over the past years on my journey as an entrepreneur, I recount meeting dozens of people; from floor cleaners to top business executives who still use these same or much worse empty phrases I encountered in that cliché meeting over 10 years ago.

Smart people try as much as possible to avoid saying the wrong thing to their teams. Highly successful people know they just have to open their minds and consider the purpose behind their words. A little thought before we speak will make our words have more meaning. Plus, it will make us sound smarter.

Avoid entering a conversation unless you understand what others intend to take away from the interaction. I always look for what I call the “unifying vision” of everyone in the room. Once you understand the purpose that binds everyone in the conversation together, you will be able to focus on the content of the conversation. Armed with understanding, you will be less likely to say something damaging because you will be in a focused place. You will be actually present.

Phrases to avoid

1. “I’m just saying.”

This phrase is the ultimate to avoid. No matter how long you have spoken, no matter how much you have said, you just reduced everything that you have offered as in “just words.”

2. “I’m entitled to my opinion.”

Yes, you are. There’s no doubt about it. You are entitled to have your own opinion, but conversations or discussions about fact or occurrence. When you voice your opinion, you surrender the ability to make your point, because you place everyone on a defensive saying that you will not give in, and the conversation will not move.

3. “I had no choice.”

We always have choices. Even when someone says I had no choice; they made a choice. If you are involved in a meeting or discussion about that choice, you should be prepared to defend the choice rather than ask people to accept the summary conclusion as final.

4. “I, personally.”

This has always been a provocation of mine because you are speaking it as you are personally speaking. We use this phrase to try to mask our feelings by saying this is what’s in me. It is your personal feeling so simply say “I” and live with what you say.

5. “Like…”

I don’t imagine that this will ever leave our vocabulary. It is used by people who are formulating thoughts and looking for something to say. While I guess it’s better than “hmm,” it sends a message that you don’t know what to say next. Think about what you are going to say before your words are spoken. There is no harm in silent thought.

6. “It’s not my fault.”

The moment this comes out of your mouth, you are looking for someone else at whom all can point the finger of blame. Take ownership of the situation and explain the circumstances with sufficient detail that everyone else can make a determination that you are not to blame. And, if you are to blame, own that too, and present a solution. 

7. “I can’t.”

If you say this with the meaning that you are not capable of doing something, it may be time for you to learn. But the reality is that when most people say, “I can’t,” what you are really saying is “I won’t.” Or, at least, that is what everyone else will hear. It just sends a very bad message, so get rid of it and don’t tell me now, “I can’t get rid of it.”

8. “It’s not fair.”

Whether you like it or not, the moment this phrase leaves your mouth, everyone in the room will picture a three-year-old stomping on the floor and screaming. No one ever said that life was fair. It is much better to focus on the circumstances that you deem to be unfair and explain that there is a greater workload on you, that you are being forced to do something that is beyond your means, or whatever it is it is making you feel the unfairness.

9. “With all due respect.

This is the ugly cousin of “No offense, but…” You might as just say, “I don’t respect you and I don’t like you, but I’m going to tell you what I’m about to say.” You don’t buffer disrespect by saying your buffering disrespect.

10. “I hear you.”

I was once asked by a mentor of mine, “What is the opposite of speaking?” I said, “listening.” My inquisitor admonished that the opposite of speaking was waiting to speak. Listening was a completely separate function. You could hear people without listening to them. It means you are ready to speak. You heard their “noise” and now it’s your turn. That is an unconscious conversation stopper.

11. “But…”

When you are discussing something and all of a sudden you throw out a “but,” it sends a message that you are about to get to a point in your discussion that will negate everything that you have said previously. People will focus on that word, forget everything that came before, and the negative that follows the word will stay with your audience.

12. “To be honest.”

Does this mean that everything you have said prior to this statement has been a lie? If everything that you have said has been true, there is no reason to insert the phrase, to be honest into a discussion. Whether you intend it or not, it causes people to wonder if you have been truthful the whole time.


The old adage applies, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” Peppering your conversation with catchphrases, clichés and copouts will not further dialogue or create clear understanding. Consider dumping the useless phases that clutter a discussion. You will maximize the impact of every word you speak, and you will sound more successful in doing it.

Got any empty catchphrases, clichés and avoidable words like the above to add to the list?

Comment below and let’s learn together.


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