Select the right words. Say them well.


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Given the fact that we are in the midst of a political season you may think you know the topic I would suggest you avoid, especially in business conversation. No, I’m not talking about discussing your favorite or least favorite Presidential candidate. Instead, I’m thinking about a far more common conversation stopper. Something that cripples career advancement, shortens relationships and hampers forward progress for worthy causes.

Let me explain by using a story a colleague told me. Just a few weeks ago a leader she knew had an opportunity to address hundreds of team members. This leader decided an inspiring story would provide great material for a “Let’s start 2016 strong” kind of message. And the inspiring story this leader told? Was it about a team member who had overcome odds and performed above and beyond expectations? Was it a great story from history to provide perspective and send the team off ready to take on the world? No, instead of these or many other options, this leader chose to talk about…

Well, this leader started the story with a one letter, simple word that can kill a lot of conversations. The leader started the story with the word “I.” They surveyed the world of inspiring stories and instead of telling those stories they decided it was far better to make it all about me. Me, me, me. I, I, I. If you find yourself using those words too often you can quickly end up on a one-way ride to nowhere.

Think of it this way. If you are in conversation and all you can think to talk about is yourself it’s like a broken record. Everyone in your circle, workplace or neighborhood will studiously avoid you. You’ll show no connection or engagement or understanding of the world around you because all you seem to be able talk about is the person in the mirror!

Here’s a quick exercise. The next time you are in conversation take a mental audit of how often you are ready to turn the conversation back to little ‘ole me? Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the self-involved movie star who likes to switch-up the conversation by saying, “Oh, enough about me, what do YOU think about me?”

If the mental audit seems too much, how about asking yourself if others seem to cut conversations short? Do you have a hard time sustaining conversations? How about if people just don’t seem to hang around with you? Besides a regular practice of showering and brushing your teeth, it may have something to do with all that talk about you and not so much about other people.

It’s worth some thought. And when I heard the story of the self-centered “leader” who could only think to tell THEIR story when addressing the team, it really struck a chord. My current reading list includes Richard Branson’s book “The Virgin Way.” In it he says some of the most powerful words a person can deliver are, “What do you think?” Demonstrating a genuine interest in others is a sure-fire conversation starter. Who knows where that might lead?


Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: