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Words do not exist in isolation: words exist in context. 

Consider that the English language word “recommended” is positive, whereas the Italian word “raccomandato” is an insult. The word is the same, with the same meaning, but what changes is the context (in this case, English versus Italian cultural norms). 

Below are five words that work well in a personal or another specific context, but are damaging when used in business. 

Leverage

This word has a proper business meaning, and many people use it correctly.

Many people also say leverage when they want to say “use”. 

For example, expecting people to “leverage these tools” or “leverage your knowledge”. What is being said is simply utilize this resource you have.

There is no reason to use the word “leverage” in this context. Language itself is a tool and when you use jargon and vague words, it is like using the handle of a hammer to pound in a nail. It may get the job done, but it won’t be pretty. 

Think through the word you mean and use something simple, clear, and descriptive. Something from everyday use. 

Help

This is a constant refrain for my clients: I instinctively cross out any use of the word “help” in their pitches, their marketing, and their general use. 

In your profession, you are not “helping” somebody do a thing: you are supposed to be doing the thing yourself. 

Think of the plumber who comes over to fix a leak. She doesn’t read you the instructions and pass you tools. She fixes the leak. She doesn’t “help”, she does. 

Find out what you actually do and use that verb instead. Especially in service businesses: be specific so your clients can envision success. 

Think

(The word “believe” also applies.)

Watch any interview or panel discussion, and you will note how often people “think” their answers. It makes me wonder: if they are experts in their field, couldn’t they “know” more?

In a business context, you don’t “think” your expertise: you know it. 

Your clients pay you to be a specialist in your area of business, so don’t be tentative with what you know to be true. State it as fact, back it up with data and experience, and show your clients they are in safe hands with you. 

Any Acronym

Use the words. 

Don’t assume people know what you mean and don’t leave them five words behind you as they try to figure out what you are saying. 

Just use words. 

Actionable

“Actionable” is a good word in of itself. It becomes a problem when you are using it as part of your pitch. If you promise “Actionable insights” or “actionable data”, do a little extra work and describe what those data are and how your clients will be able to act, based on the data. 

This is once again a challenge against complacency. 

Don’t just use the one simple but vague word. Instead, explain what it means. 

Show you aren’t afraid to make a promise. This will make you more approachable to your clients and will also make you appear more honest. 

Bonus: Strategic Goals and Objectives

Just say goals.