Three Words You Should Banish from Your Vocabulary

Career DevelopmentPersonal Branding

There are three words I suggest banning from your vocabulary. Not because they aren’t words (that’s a different post all together), but because when these words are used it usually means the person using them doesn’t have a plan or an intention to do whatever it is you are asking. At best they are filler words. At worst they are indicators of the level of commitment. I also suggest asking people you work with to ban these words too.

The three words are: might, should and probably

Why should you banish these words from your vocabulary?

Because these words are a cop out. Saying might, should and probably is a mealy-mouthed and milquetoast way of saying they aren’t going to do it. Or if they are it’s a soft commitment.

Why should you expect others to banish these words … at least for your interactions?

Because it’s an indicator of the level of commitment and interaction that you want to have with them. If you are going to hold yourself accountable for your actions and vocabulary you can reasonably request others to do the same. Note I did not say EXPECT them to you. You may only be able to do that in a reporting relationship and then only if the person has the discipline to do it.

I won’t lie to you. It’s going to be HARD. It’s going to take work for you to break the habit. It’s going to be even harder for you to impose this suggestion and this model on others. Surprise! Work is hard.

Might, Should and Probably

How many times has someone told you they “might” have something done that you are asking for?

  • Were you impressed?
  • Did you get the answer you expected?
  • Are you any farther ahead with their (non) reply?

Of course, for most of us the answer is NO to all three questions.

What now?

  • Were you annoyed?
  • Do you have the right to be?
  • Do you need to ask them a clarifying question?

Again, for many of us the answer is YES to all three questions.

What can you do?

Bottom Line

People do what they get rewarded for

  • If you reward them by letting them get away with using might, should and probably to answer your inquiries they’ll continue to use them
  • They won. Expect it to happen again and again
  • However, this is not a battle of winners and losers
  • Its a battle for efficiency
  • Efficiency in:
    • Getting things done
    • Having conversations
    • Building people skills
    • And getting the task at hand completed in a predictable and repeatable manner.

What can you expect when you banish might, should and probably from your vocabulary?

  • You will get more done
  • Your colleagues will get more done
  • And your customers (stakeholders) will appreciate your effort and commitment

In the end … it’s not as important if you cannot get others to commit to banishing these words from their vocabulary. However, I strongly suggest that you make a conscious and concerted effort for yourself to banish them and replace them with words of action. Pick whatever words you like. I have changed the words might, should and probably to committed, scheduled and completed. Or when the situation warrants it I’m just honest and say no. I let the person know that I cannot do what they are asking.

My commitment to you — If you ask me to do something I will respond. I may respond with a no or it may be a yes. If it’s a yes I will have a plan of action to and a schedule for you. And it will be a schedule that you can count on.

What’s your commitment? Are you willing to banish a few words from your vocabulary?


Jeff  is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.