Did I Say That?
by Dana Bristol-Smith

Do you let words spill out of your mouth out of habit, then wish you could take them back?

Last week, in our Essential Communication Skills workshop, the group was brainstorming a list of words they frequently hear mispronounced.

See if these, hmm, words sound familiar to you:

Mispronunciation    Real Word(s)

     gunna             going to
     coulda             could have
     shoulda           should have
     unnerstan        understand
     ta                   to
     gimme             give me
     thinkin             thinking
     gotta               got to

In written communication, we’d never get away with spelling words the same as we speak them. However, it’s no surprise to find out from Stephanie Eubanks, our business writing expert, that she finds that many business professionals use the wrong words in their written business communications.

Let’s reflect on that for a moment.

What kind of message are you sending to your employees, customers, and senior management if you are misusing words? I’ll take a guess here and say, probably not the message that you want to.

So what can you do?

We suggest that you become more aware of both your written and spoken communications. Here are five practical steps you can take to improve how you look and sound in person and on paper. After the five steps you'll see Stephanie’s list of Commonly Misused Words.

Five Steps to Improve How You Look and Sound in
Person and on Paper

1. Rehearse important communications out loud
Practice builds confidence. Do you spend time to rehearse important communications? You only get one chance to make an important presentation—only one chance to make a positive impression. Athletes practice, pianists practice, politicians practice. You need to practice too.

2. Use two sets of eyes
Find a colleague/buddy who can be your second set of eyes. Ask your colleague to proofread important written communications. This is not admitting to a deficiency on your part – it is incorporating continuous improvement into your writing process. It says that you are human (to err is human) and you are not afraid to ask for assistance.

3. Tape record a conversation or presentation
(with permission, of course!)
Listen to the tape and listen to your pronunciation. Listen for filler words too. Write a list of the filler words you hear or know that you use. I have to caution you, you might not hear your fillers or mispronunciations because you know what you intended to say. Enlist the help of your buddy’s ears too.

4. Keep a dictionary handy
Make sure you are using the right word in the right place. Look up words that you read that you are unfamiliar with.

5. Expand your vocabulary
With an expanded vocabulary you have more words to choose from so that you can use your words with precision. I recommend the book Verbal Advantage by Charles Harrington Elster. Mr. Elster refers to numerous studies that have shown that there is a correlation between career and financial success and an above-average vocabulary, and that the level of success people achieve is linked to the number of words they command.

Here’s Stephanie Eubank’s list of Commonly Misused Words. See if you are using these words correctly.

advise          use if you are a lawyer giving legal counsel
inform          use if you are giving information

irregardless   use regardless

assure         to make a person feel confident
ensure         to make sure something happens
insure          to guarantee for money

affect          to influence, to change
effect          result, impression

appraise       to set a value on
apprise         to inform

allow            to give permission
enable          to make possible

first              Use first, second, third—not

good - well    Use good to say you’re feeling happy. Use                    well to say you’re feeling healthy.

i.e. – e.g.      Use i.e. before a definition or explanation.                    Use e.g. to introduce an example or                    substitution.

Me - I          Use me rather than I after prepositions like                   between and except.
                  We’ll keep this news between you and me                   until our manager announces it.
                  (not between you and I) Security notified                   everyone except Bob and me.(not Bob & I).

I hope this review has been helpful. Here’s to you using the right word, at the right time, in the right place—so you look and sound as professional on paper and in person as you really are!

About the Author

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. You can email Dana at:dana@speakforsuccess.net