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The words you use

I noticed something in yesterday’s email as I was scanning through it this morning:

“I found myself shivering on the banks of the River Avon on New Year’s Day, having foolishly committed to swimming across it as a ‘good way’ to start the year.”

That single word: ‘foolishly’. It doesn’t sound like much, but it speaks volumes. Perhaps it was, by societal norms, an odd thing to do – but the fun, the refreshment, the positive feeling of actually having got up on the first morning of the year and done something was great.

Why discount it? Why devalue it?

Many people, and perhaps especially women, have been conditioned to downplay achievements, goals and life in general using negative qualifying words.

– I just wanted to email you…
– Only me, just thought I’d call…
– It might not be a good idea but…
– Ignore this if you want, but…

And so on.

If you want to commit to something, if you want to start something or change something, talk about it in entirely positive terms.

Don’t downplay what you’re about to do out of some misplaced faux-British sense of guilt about success.

Don’t laugh at yourself for being daft, don’t know why I bother, aren’t we idiots for doing this?! Celebrate that you are an interesting, determined individual.

And if you want to be supportive to others, do the same. Don’t scoff “Why would you do that?” because they go to bootcamp in the rain, or are doing anything you don’t do. Share their pride, share their strength and use it for yourself next time you’re struggling for motivation.

Add your thoughts below – or email tom@tbogh.com if you’d prefer to keep it confidential.

Best wishes,



  • Paul Cook says:

    Hi Tom
    A well timed commentary so thanks.
    I have just coached an ex colleague, he has compiled a presentation for management which is well researched but uses passive language and down plays his ideas and plans.
    I spend a lot of time coaching engineers, team leaders, managers and company directors in how the language we use can dilute or even corrupt our message and our intentions, I’m no expert but the language we use can help to get our message across concisely, confuse or irritate. It takes a bit of skill and practice but well worth the effort.

    • Tom Doggett says:

      There was a word I was searching for when I was writing this but it somehow eluded me: ‘apologetic’. People almost feel guilty about their achievements, which inevitably holds them back.

      Great example of the problem in real life and well done for picking up on it. There’s a good book called “Read This!: Business Writing that Works” by Robert Gentle. Very good advice on clear, succinct writing. A lot of the problem comes from people believing there is a need for verbosity but then shy away from using positive filler words. Better to use none than a negative! Thanks Paul.

  • Ribs Norman says:

    Wise words. I do this all the time when sharing gigs (part-time comedian), saying things like: “I’m doing this gig, along with some people who are actually funny.” Must stop.

    • Tom Doggett says:

      Yes, stop! I see it a lot too with music: people at open mics saying “I’m not very good, I don’t really know this song” etc. – instead of making the audience feel sympathy for you, you are actually putting them on edge, worried that it’s going to be awkward.