Top 10 Words and Phrases to Avoid

Woman holding hands over mouth to not use words and phrases to avoid.

It probably comes as no surprise to you that there are some words and phrases that you just shouldn't use in client conversations. Phrases like, "We keep our prices low by using lower-quality materials," are easy to spot as a bad idea. But do you know the top 10 words and phrases to avoid when speaking with current and potential clients?

When talking with a potential or current client, there are two reactions they're going to have. The first is an evaluation or rational response to what you said. And the second – and sometimes more important – reaction is an emotional reaction to how you said it. You must know the words and phrases to avoid, so you're not inadvertently stepping on a verbal land mine.

Let's clip through a quick list to make sure the top 10 words and phrases to avoid aren't sneaking in, unnoticed, in your client conversations.

1. To be honest

This comes in several varieties. You might say, "to be honest," or maybe just "honestly", but any variety will have the same impact. You think you're letting the client know that you're being direct and candid, but what they hear is that you're going to speak to them honestly now. How were you speaking to them before? Were you not being honest? 

This is a sentence starter that doesn't create the connection you're looking for. It's best just to skip it.

2. That's a good question

Here's another one where you think you're sending a positive message. But this comes across as annoyingly patronizing every time. It's like you're saying, "Oh, look at you. Aren't you cute? You asked a good question. I'm going to give you a gold star for that." I'm pretty sure that's not how you want to come across. 

You're trying to be supportive, but it comes out all wonky. It's a good idea to use a different starter at the beginning of an explanation.

3. Obviously

Unfortunately, this is just downright condescending. You're probably answering a question or highlighting a key point. Still, when you say "obviously," followed by an explanation, it sends the message that the other person should have realized this without you're having to tell them. It makes them feel stupid. And nobody likes that.

4. Take it to the next level

This is one of the phrases that in itself is not bad, but it's become so overused that it's lost its value. Studies show that when words and phrases are overused, they lose their meaning. It's called semantic satiation. It's a psychological phenomenon caused by the repetition of a word or phrase. 

The words or phrases lose meaning for the listener, and they don't hear a persuasive conversation, they hear meaningless sound. What? Yes, they hear sounds without any meaning. Which means they're no longer listening to you. Ouch!

5. Leverage

I once had a conversation with someone who was trying to promote their services, and they said leverage four times in one sentence. It was so annoying that I found myself counting how many times it was said. Using the same words multiple times in a sentence or conversation is annoying and makes you sound like you're just repeating the current business buzzword. 

It's important to find synonyms for words that you tend to overuse so that you don't lose your client during the conversation. We all do it. Even I do it from time to time. It's just an efficient speech pattern to use the same words over and over. But it's not an effective speech pattern, so learn some synonyms that you can work into your conversations instead.

6. ASAP

This is a word that's meant to communicate urgency. You're going to get on something right away, and you'll get back to them asap. It sounds like you're communicating to the client that you feel their request is urgent and that you've put it at the top of your to-do list. And that's okay. But it leaves a bit of space for interpretation. 

If you don't define what asap means for you, you risk a nasty misunderstanding. To you asap may mean you'll get back to them tomorrow. To them it might mean you'll follow up within an hour. It's okay to use asap, but make sure you set some expectations around it. Otherwise, you and your client could have a completely different understanding of the word.

7. People like you

This one is just going to get you in all kinds of trouble. You're probably trying to explain what has been successful in the past for clients in a similar situation as your potential client, but that's not how they're going to hear it. The phrase is often used as a starter phrase to express a negative stereotype about a group of people. It has a negative emotional impact. 

It's perfectly okay to say, "previous clients like you," or "client in similar situations." But you should avoid saying "people like you" under any circumstances. It's just too toxic.

8. And the end of the day…

One of my silly quirks is that when I'm watching news commentators on TV, I end up counting how many times they say, "at the end of the day," to summarize a point they're trying to make. It's one of the downsides of being a communications coach; you're always listening. But, I'm willing to bet that you've noticed this one too. It can be a great way to summarize a point, but not if it's overused. 

Then, we're back at that whole semantic satiation thing again, and your listener either isn't listening or is annoyed. Either way, they're not impressed. At the end of the day, you should weed it out of our speech pattern. Sorry, I couldn't resist!

9. The bottom line is…

I'm sure you think that we're right back at semantic satiation again, and you're partially right. This is a phrase that's overused in business conversations. You hear it in one-on-one conversations, in meetings, and in presentations. And its overuse is a pretty good reason not to use it. But there's another reason too. 

"The bottom line is" is a phrase that typically beings a sentence where you're going to deliver negative information. You're going to tell the client that they can't get what they want for what they want to spend. Or, you're going to tell them that they're timeline isn't realistic. When was the last time someone said to you, "the bottom line is…" and followed up with positive information? See what I mean. 

If the client isn't catching on to the negative information, you can pick up this verbal two-by-four and whack them upside the head, but otherwise, you might want to skip it.

10. Opportunity…

When businesspeople started using this word in the 1980s, it was kind of fun and refreshing. Instead of saying "problem" or "difficulty," you said "opportunity." It was the positive-thinking movement's way of always looking at things positively.

But it's sort of lost that mean, and now it has two different meanings.

If you use the word "opportunity" with a client, it's like waving a big red flag that you're about to try to sell them something. And that it's probably going to be a hard sell. Why do they have that impression? Because it's overused in hard sell presentations for decades, so it now has a negative emotional impact during client conversations. 

Feel free to use "opportunity" in other situations or conversations – just don't use it when you're trying to create a new client relationship. It's going to come across as a hard sell. And you probably don't want that.

Potential or current clients want to have genuine conversations with you where they don't feel you're giving a canned response. They want to hear from you, but in a way that's real. They don't want to think that you're reading from a sales script or repeating phrases you've used with everyone else. And one of the best ways to do that is weed out of your conversations the top 10 words and phrases to avoid.