The One Word That Successful Product Managers Never Say
October 27, 2014

The One Word That Successful Product Managers Never Say

by Brian de Haaff

Words matter. What you say can affect how people perceive you. Ideally, the words you use will elevate you and motivate those around you. They should not soil you or your relationships. Viewing every conversation as an opportunity to create a positive impression or experience will help you be terrific.

A product manager who I worked closely with before I co-founded Aha! always said “honestly” when he really wanted something. He thought that it was a way to make a hard point, but we all questioned whether he was lying to us at all other times.

We smirked whenever he said it and alarm bells went off in my head. Beginning a request with “honestly” didn’t inspire anyone around him to give him whatever he wanted in a better or faster fashion. It just made us suspicious of him. Why?

To be credible, you should be straightforward every time. And when you are, no qualifier like “honestly” is needed. Authenticity is the only honesty you need.

I believe that “honestly” is the dirtiest word in business for three reasons:

Destroys your credibility

Using the term “honestly” at best undermines and at worst destroys your credibility. Some people will react like I did to the product manager and question your overall transparency – or your level of dishonesty in other situations. Using that term calls one’s integrity into question.

Window to your frustration

Employing a term like “honestly” is like a “tell” in poker — it grabs attention, sometimes when you least want it and often after someone has disagreed with you. Do not let your words be a window to your frustration. Whatever frustration you have is best communicated with direct words – and yes, communicated honestly. Use your clarity of thought and tone to share your point-of-view. Do not let threatening words like “honestly” to try to make your case for you.

Creates distance

Prefacing a statement with “honestly” creates distance. It pushes people back, making it harder for them to get close and to see your point. This approach harms your own relationship-building, let alone any argument that you are poised to make. Words matter a lot, and your integrity matters more. Do not compromise it by creating the chasm of a bad impression. To draw people in, be earnest in your interactions every time.

Kudos to you if you have learned to avoid using words like “honestly.” And if you do not use them, you probably are keenly aware of them when they are spoken.

“Honestly” might even give you a little scare if it is a word that does not cross your lips. But move beyond the initial shiver because there are insights to be learned. Listen closely for why the speaker chose the word. There is emotion/motivation to be gleaned from whatever follows.

For the best self-presentation in the workplace, think about the words you use and how you deliver them. Seek language that is clear and positive and which avoids the risk of drawing your integrity into question. Speaking eloquently, confidently, directly, and in an unqualified manner will reduce misunderstandings and will increase respect for you as well as for the message you are delivering.

How do you feel when you hear the word?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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