Practical Communication

Five Powerless Communication Techniques You Should Stop Using Today

Five Powerless Communication Techniques You Should Stop Using Today

Without even realizing it, you may have let wimpy words and powerless phrases sneak into your vocabulary.

These words and phrases tell others that you’re unsure of yourself, your ideas, and your position. The result? They’re likely zapping your personal power and credibility at work.

If you want to project confidence and authority and need people to listen to your ideas and suggestions, start by eliminating these five powerless communication techniques from your daily communication.

1. Tag questions

Tag questions are short questions added to the end of an opinion to avoid truly taking a stand. They’re the verbal equivalent of “testing the waters” before plunging in.

“It’s about time to start the meeting, isn’t it?

“I’d like to have pizza for lunch. Is that okay with you?

Adding tag questions allows the person who really wants to say, “I’d like to start the meeting,” to see if others agree with him or her. If others at the meeting say, “We can’t start, Bob isn’t here,” then the tag questioner can always say, “I wasn’t saying we should start, I was just asking a question.”

To strengthen your message, take a stand.  Say, “It’s 9 am, let’s start the meeting,” or “I’m going to get pizza for lunch. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like.” Don’t hide behind tag questions. Take a risk and be willing to have others disagree with you.

Powerful and Weak directions. Opposite traffic sign.2. Hesitations

Hesitations are the “uhs,” “ums,” and extended pauses that make you sound uncertain.

“It’s 9 am, uh, let’s go ahead and uh, start the meeting.”

“I think it’s um, and okay idea, um, if that’s what you want to do.”

To strengthen your message, set a goal for eliminating hesitations from your speech. Slow things down and think about what you want to say, so you can say it without hesitation.

3. Hedges

Hedges are another form of uncertainty, similar to tag questions in that they indicate an unwillingness to take responsibility or take a stand. Additionally, they are often used to avoid hurting another person’s feelings by just coming out and saying “no.”

“I might be willing to try it.”

Maybe I could consider it.”

Before opening your mouth, make a decision and state it surely. Are you willing to try it or not? Are you going to consider it or not? If you’re uncertain, ask questions and gather more information so you can make a decision.

4. Qualifiers

Qualifiers are adjectives or adverbs that weaken the words they preceded.

“I just need to talk with you about a little problem.”

“I think I can handle it.”

I’m not sure but, I think you should research a few more options.”

To strengthen your message, eliminate the qualifiers and leave all the rest.

“I need to talk with you about a problem.”

“I can handle it.”

“I need you to research a few more options.”

5. Courtesy titles or polite forms

Courtesy titles are terms such as “sir” or “ma’am”. I get a lot of pushback here in the South when I tell people that saying “yes sir,” or “no ma’am” makes them sound weak. I understand the rationale behind using these terms- courtesy, politeness, and respect. However, if you were to see two people talking and one was repeatedly saying, “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and the other person wasn’t, you’d know immediately which person was the one with more power and which one was subordinate.

To strengthen your message, eliminate the sirs and ma’ams except when speaking with your customers or your grandma/grandpa.


If you’re guilty of using these powerless phrases, it may not be easy to eliminate them from your speech, especially all at once. However, if you set a goal to eliminate just one at a time, you’ll start taking back your personal communication power and you’ll find that others will really start listening to what you have to say.


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