The Most Dangerous Word to Use in the Workplace

Editor’s note: TLNT is continuing an annual tradition by counting down the most popular posts of the year. This is No. 24. Our regular content will return next Monday.

What is the one thing you can count on a supervisor saying in 99 percent of all performance evaluations?

Try.

It probably comes in the form of: “You can ‘try’’ harder” or “Maybe you should ‘try’ to do…” or “Give this a ‘try’…”

But that little three letter word – Try – is a very dangerous word. Remember what Jedi Master Yoda from Star Wars said?

The words you choose have great impact

Fortune had a great article on the use of the word “try” recently:

Whether in a job interview, on a resume, or in the office, try simply shows a lack of belief, passion, commitment, and confidence — all the qualities you need to succeed in today’s tight job market. Grammarly’s contextual thesaurus has a whopping 66 different synonyms for try, yet none of them are as convincing as words like do, believe, act, tackle, accomplish, or succeed. While try might get you 10 percent, or even halfway there, employers are looking for strong problem solving skills and unwavering dedication.”

I cringe when I hear, “I’ll give it a try,” because the phrase suggests failure. “I’ll do it” inspires confidence every time.”

When I coach supervisors on delivering performance feedback, this is a concept I work hard on getting them to understand – the words you choose to use have great impact. Also, the words they allow the employee to respond with sets them up for future success or failure.

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Getting the performance they (and you) want

One thing I’ve always done with performance feedback is allow the employee to give me their performance objectives instead of dictating what performance I expect. How I coach the performance, though, is to frequently help in rewording their objectives with the words that are going to ensure they go after the performance they want and not to “try’”and get the performance they want.

This might seem a bit nit-picky to some, but using words the convey conviction of a goal do wonders for setting someone off on the right track to reaching that goal.

I can’t say it any better than Yoda, Jedi Master: “Do, or do not. There is no Try.”

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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