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This post is to the young ‘uns who still have a capacity to change. Recently I asked a colleague a question and he said, "I believe so". A forceful conversation followed. I wasn't always like this. I used to believe. More on that in a bit.

Do you find yourself saying "I believe" often?

Is it because you actually don’t know and are afraid to say so? Or is it because you know but lack the confidence to say it? Language matters in the workplace. In life it matters too, but at work we have less leeway.

Say, “I don’t know, let me find out” or say “I am fairly sure, but let me confirm”. These responses put us on a concrete path for what comes next and help us act with confidence. Wishy-washy phrases are career-limiting; they put us in a position that is neither decisive nor actionable.

Trust me. I learned the hard way...

My first ding came years ago at the US-Canada border as I drove up to the passport control kiosk:

Immigration Officer: "Do you have any food?"

Me: "Umm...not really."

Officer: "NOT REALLY?! What does THAT mean? Do you or don't you??"

Me (gasping): ", no!!"

Suspended between two countries, I got a lecture I will never forget. As I drove into Canada, I evicted "not really" from my vocabulary. Forever!! Immigration officers, it turns out, make excellent life coaches.

Another time, I responded with "I believe" to my boss's boss and he looked me squarely in the eye, from a foot above and barked, "I don't really care about your beliefs!" Ouch! In an instant I relegated "belief" only to matters of great import, like God and UFOs.

Through the years, I've collected a stash of almost-right words and tucked them safely in a back of the bottom drawer in my kitchen, that place I never get to. Life is safer this way. I know.

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