The English language has an unending supply of words and phrases built to create conversations that convey meaning and leave impressions. How you use and deliver these words makes a huge impression on people and leaves them thinking a certain way about you.

Every conversation is a selling moment that constructs lasting images in others’ minds. Considering how important first impressions can be, there are three words that are absolutely deadly to sales, your career and your very psyche. These three words, when uttered, send an extremely negative message to everyone around you. These words – just nine simple letters and one apostrophe – can have a detrimental effect on your ability to create relationships, establish credibility and attract others. Here they are:


These three words by themselves send a very strong message about how you feel about yourself and how you view your value and contributions to your organization. “I’m just the” sets up a cascade of unflattering perceptions and opinions in the mind and hearts of the people being spoken too. It creates an indelible image that you have little to no value.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding these three, seemingly harmless little words. They can negatively impact you in a number of ways.

It sends the message that “I don’t matter.” It’s akin to saying, “Please don’t take me seriously.” There is another dimension to the very damaging effects of these words. Imagine you are approached by your supervisor, manager or a colleague and they ask you some questions about a situation. The questioning could be entirely innocent or pointed—eliciting a defensive response in the form of “I’m just the” in an attempt to deflect blame or responsibility. These words are an intentional or unintentional way to defer accountability. It’s the unconscious way these words are used that set you up for failure and disengagement.

Using the word “but” is a bad idea because it negates everything that has been said up to that point. The same result occurs when you say, “I’m just the.” You make it harder on yourself to get what you need, and it drastically affects your ability to leave a lasting, positive impression. You must engage people to further your goals. Let them know you matter.

It conveys uncertainty. It sends the message you don’t have confidence in what you do and how you contribute every single day. One of the most common questions in business is: “What do you do?” When faced with that question, you typically have a few seconds to make your mark. Don’t waste that opportunity by starting with “I’m just the...”

It telegraphs your insecurities. Everyone has them, and anyone who suggests that they are not insecure at some level is actually insecure. Secure people are OK with their insecurities and face them with courage and determination. Life can be hard enough without adding to it with these three words.

Decision makers like confidence. Project confidence and be able to articulate what you do quickly (value proposition) and capture people’s imagination and passion. Don’t squander that opportunity with the following answer …“I’m just the...” and then your title. Snoozer.

It’s competitive out there. When you use these words, you don’t differentiate or set yourself apart in any way. You might as well say, “Please ignore me and talk to the next person.” When people attempt to engage you in conversation, believe that they want to try and find some common ground. Your job is to engage with others and to display an open willingness to taking the conversation to a deeper level.

It’s all about attitude and mindset. “I’m just the…” speaks volumes about your attitude and mindset. Whether accurate or not; once the message is sent then perception is set. Perception becomes reality and then it becomes very hard to turn that ship around. Don’t make things harder on yourself than they need to be. Perception is reality.

It does matter what people think. When you were growing up, your parents may have said, “It doesn’t matter what others think.” While that may be true in certain situations, when it comes to selling yourself, explaining your position or seeking consensus, it does matter what people think. Please be very careful about your word choice when you are engaged in a conversation. Don’t make it easier to be dismissed by others by uttering the words ‘I’m just the...”

Earn respect. When you hold yourself accountable and refuse to hide behind “I’m just the,” you show the world that you accept responsibility for your position or your opinion on a situation — regardless of outcome. Avoiding “I’m just the” will earn you respect and admiration.

If you’ve ever wondered why you haven’t gotten something you want, consider that your use of these three words might have been the roadblock. Attitude is everything. Even if you have not said them aloud, you may still be telegraphing this mindset. Watch your words and watch what happens.

Todd Cohen, CSP is an accomplished and sought after speaker, sales culture expert and author of “Everyone’s in Sales” and “Everyone’s in Sales: STOP Apologizing.” www.toddcohen.com