3 “Qualifier Phrases” to Avoid Using in Business (and other areas) if You Truly Have any Emotional Intelligence

Paul Zhao
4 min readAug 26, 2020
Courtesy: Andy Selimov

There is a pandemic going on. No, not just COIVD-19. There’s a pandemic in the business sphere where people are over-qualifying their statements in a failed attempt to take the “sting” out of their comments — and guess what?

Not only do these qualification phrases not work, they often end up backfiring. Cheap qualifiers at the beginning of a sentence to break bad news or express disagreement is lazy. It presumes that because you’ve used a hackneyed preface, it gives you license to say whatever else that follows.

“To be honest…” / “Frankly…”

Why would anyone need to ever say this? Are you suggesting that under normal circumstances, you are not honest or frank? Anytime folks hear this phrase, they know you are setting them up with something harsh anyway. In fact, it often raises people’s defense mechanisms because the phrase is so commonly invoked without any thoughtfulness, that it completely backfires by triggering people to “brace for impact.”

You’re better off being respectful and giving the feedback directly.

Instead of:
“To be honest, I just don’t think this business plan is going to work. Here’s why…”

Use:
The business plan you propose has strengths and limitations. Acknowledging the strengths, let’s discuss the areas that we can shore up. If we can’t shore it up, let’s think of an alternative plan or re-evaluate.”

The second approach isn’t any less honest, is it?

“Objectively speaking…”

Yup, like the first one, this is a real piece of work. Are you suggesting you are normally not being objective? Is there some ulterior motive or subjective lens you are pushing under typical circumstances? Again, this is a trigger phrase — most people mentally respond by thinking “Oh boy… here we go…” (cue eye roll).

If you’re concerned that people misinterpret your views as personal or subjective, there’s a better way to explain the follow-up content. And that’s simply by talking to facts.

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Paul Zhao

Father, husband, former entrepreneur, corporate PM. I’m constantly looking for diversions to keep the neurons firing, if only a little.