Words That Cut Our Power In Half

–The way we unconsciously communicate to others determines how the world will engage with us.

No Problem. Honestly. You Know. Utterly. Do You Know What I Mean? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I hope so. You Shouldn’t Have. It was Nothing.

When the late and great Toni Morrison accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, she said,

We die. Perhaps that is the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

I am fortunate to hear a close friend and colleague speak on a regular basis. When we first met, I had concerns about just how precise she is in how she communicates. Would that put anyone off? Then, I noticed just how freely she includes every emotion that lines up with the message she wants us to hear. And, you know what? People hang on to her every word.

As a musician, I have always felt a need to be so prepared that when I step in front of an audience, I can throw the music away and be fully present. As per music, I am a huge fan of Lady Gaga. Many of us believe her stunning performances are because of an innate gift. But it is far more than that. She cares so much for every audience that she spends superhuman hours and scripts every detail so that when she steps out, we, the people she loves, just might remember that performance forever. This is the sign of someone that respects us. Art Pop, the Sound of Music, Tony Bennet, or the Star-Spangled Banner. We remember.

We seem to produce a new batch of junk words with every generation. For some, we use the words to let the listener know, “You are not a member of my tribe.” For some, despite all of the preparations, we don’t quite make it to the finals because someone came in that cares more. Many hear the word charisma and we might think of the Kardashians. In the social media world, Kim is a star. She builds a $200M business out of thin air but that is not quite the truth. Kim builds a business with her tribe. As much research as I have recently poured into social media, she cares about them.

True charisma isn’t about the ego of the speaker. Real charisma is in our ability to focus on the person in front of us; to understand their lives and challenges so much that we connect with them.

The rest of us rely on junk language because we didn’t do the work. Or, we don’t really want to identify with baby boomers because our tribe is 40 years younger. Using junk language signals we don’t care that much or we haven’t done enough work to understand, silence is just as important as the words between that silence. The music was just so perfect until your anxiety pushed you to add more noise.

We hear that, and we also feel it.

Let’s review today’s most common junk words with the people who are listening:


“I hope that we can solve your problem.”

To clarify, the only time to use the word hope is when we are in a storm with lashing cold winds, our boat capsizes, and we hope someone will find us before hypothermia does the rest. But, when we use it in our everyday language we are telling the world of our reluctance to take action as well as results.

It was Nothing or worse: You Shouldn’t Have

The last time I handed an envelope filled with a trunkload of money in it, she responded: “You shouldn’t have,” I grabbed it out of her hands and said, “Well I’ve got big plans for this.!”

There is the shot across the bow of our kindest praise when they tell us, “Oh, it was nothing.” Nothing? When we give someone praise like this and they respond, “It was nothing,” what are they actually telling us?

“Don’t look at me, don’t judge me, and do not do that again.”

I’ve met so many people with this kind of “flying below the radar” thinking right after they are laid off. Many of them were doing a great job but no one knew that. On the other hand when someone gives us a gift and we come back with, “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” they will usually not do that again.

Do you know what I mean?

“Yeah.” What is that? It’s coming up with a whatever comes after generation m or z. It shows up on the news.

“You have been telling all of us to stay out of the office to avoid the plague. What are your thoughts?”

“Yeah.” What is that? I’m depending on my readers to tell me why so many young people respond to every question or directive with, “Yeah.”

Honestly or To Be Honest

Most of us will let it go once. But if you continue to use the word, we can surmise telling the truth is a special event in your world. Is honesty that special? Are you sorting out whether to tell us the truth, will the easiest answer be, “Thank you for coming?”

No Problem

I saved this for last because the words give me life-threatening facial ticks.

The first time I heard this was while a trauma team was pushing in a chest tube after a serious accident. I asked them to stop for one second so I could imagine catching my breath, I gurgled out a ‘thank-you’ and the resident gave a vacant expression while responding, “No problem.”

What? I began looking for dead relatives beckoning me to come forward.

Like the simple word “thank you,” there is still no substitute for, “I’m delighted to help,” or, “What else can I help you with?”

Years ago, a guru in the diversity movement gave me a bias test. She said I sailed through every possible shortcoming until they found that I am a geographic racist. I replied, “I live in Los Angeles, we change nations every five blocks.” But, the real source of my wrath was found in Portugal. They practice Fado, which is the art of nonchalance. Please return to the first picture above. That is a face filled with Fado as a service person blows cigarette smoke while filling the bag with groceries.

I guess this is what happens when a country spends thousands of years fighting off Spain and eating fish.

If there are any words you use as junk, there is a solution. Ask two people that spend significant time with you to listen for the 1-3 junk words you use. Whenever they hear one of the words, their hands are to reach forward and you are going to put a $20 in the loved one’s hand.

There is one exception. Whenever you dare to use the words, “supposed to,” send $100.

When someone uses this word on you, there is one reason. It indicates that wherever you are, it’s the wrong place.


David Harder
David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.

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