I tell my students this all the time. If you want your bosses and clients to take you seriously, make your case logically and make it with conviction. Don’t start off with: “In my humble opinion…” People don’t follow your counsel because you “think” you’re right. They follow you because you’ve made a persuasive case based on solid evidence.
A persuasive communicator isn’t tentative. I learned this 35 years ago in a college course called “Argumentation and Debate.” I also learned the value of research — hours and hours of research — from which my team assembled the facts and stories to support our position.
Think about it. Ever heard an accomplished debater begin a case with, “In my opinion…”? Confident debaters, like confident PR counselors, state their positions without qualification and they back those positions with evidence.
Ask me about “I think”
This past semester, I tried an experiment in my Ethics and Issues class. Each time a student wrote the words “I think,” or “in my opinion,” I placed a note in the paper’s margin that read: “Ask me about ‘I think.'”
I graded 80-90 papers in this class over the past 15 weeks, and I tagged about 20% with the “I think” note. Not a single student asked me about it. Not one.
Perhaps the students don’t want constructive comments. Or maybe they just don’t care. To be fair, most are graduating seniors and focused on the job search. (Only 3 of 20 were PR majors, and none used the “I think” phrase. I must have beaten them into submission in past classes!)
Some 33 years after that debate class, “Word Wise” blogger Dan Santow presented the “I think” lesson better than I ever could. I’ve been referring students to his “Think Tank” post ever since. Here’s the essence:
One way to make your writing more forceful and dynamic, whether you’re writing op-eds on behalf of a client or internal memos or even new business proposals, is to avoid using the phrase “I think.” Implicitly, when you write something you believe it to be so. There’s no need to precede it with “I think,” which can actually imply that you aren’t so sure that what you are writing is true or reasonable or sage or valuable.
Say you’re a client. Which would you rather hear your hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour communications partner advise?
- I think a word-of-mouth campaign would create buzz. I think that’s what we should implement.
- A word-of-mouth campaign would create buzz. That’s what we should implement.
The first example sounds a little namby-pamby, as if though you’re suggesting it you don’t want to take responsibility for it. The second example sounds confident, implying you know your stuff (which, presumably you do).
I think Dan got it right. His blog is a “must read” for anyone who cares about good writing and effective persuasion.