Are YOU using weasel words in your speech?

photo credit: IMG_8750

NLP looks very thoroughly at the way we speak and the way we do things. We’ve already looked at how the language we use shapes our beliefs and behavior in the meta-model guide and how we can find how a person thinks about a specific problem if we ask them certain questions.

Today we’re going to look at weasel words or words that people use in their speech to avoid commitment and save face later on when they fail to provide results and what we can do to change this.

“I want/might/could do it …” vs. “I will do it”

Whenever it comes to setting goals and making public commitments, the majority of people use cop-out words known in NLP as qualifiers such as  “I might do X”, “Hopefully I can finish X on time”, “I’ll see if I can schedule an appointment”, “I’ll try to see if I have time to attend the party” and so on.

Whenever you use these words, you avoid making a commitment. When you say “I will try to”, you’ve already given yourself room to fail because when you do fail, you will be able to say “well, I did try but <X, Y, Z excuse>”.

Do or do not. There is no try.


There are some very powerful things that we can learn from Star Wars. Saying that you will “give something a try” means that you’ve already assigned a low priority to that thing and the probability of you doing it is from the start shot down.

You do not say “I’ll try to eat something.”. Either you get a hold of a piece of food, chew it and swallow it or you die. There is no doubt about that. Yet, in our life, the important things get put off. That which must be done today, we say “I’ll see if I have some time in the weekend to do it” and then we wonder why we never can get anything done.

We say “I’m thinking about…” yet there is no decision. It’s still a thought at that point. And if we’re telling someone that we’re thinking about doing something, you can be sure that you will never actually get to do that thing.

The explanation

If we listen to the words we use, we can discern two things: what is actually being said and how we feel about it. On the surface level things might seem perfectly clear, congruent, etc.. but when we look at the words being used, we quickly see that there are people who do things things and people who dream about doing things.

The presence of qualifiers like “might”, “could”, “see”, “try”, “hopefully”, “if it’s not too much trouble”, “aim to”, “would be nice”, “I’d like to”, “do my best to”, “make it”, “intend to” and so on signify that there is a discord between the surface level and the deep level. People say one thing and they feel the complete opposite.

Now that you know how easy it is to get yourself out of a commitment at the verbal level, you should be able to find the areas of life where you yourself have fluffy commitments. It can be something that you’ve been postponing for a long time. It could be a friend that you keep telling that “it would be nice” to see him yet it always ends up being “we’ll see if I can squeeze you in next week”. Observe how you and others use qualifiers. This will show you the things you are avoiding to do.

Commit internally

So how can we solve this problem?

The first step is to commit internally.

Decide that you’re going to do something and then go do it.

Once you start living without “ifs” and “buts”, things will become much clearer and easier to act upon. Want something? Go for it. Not sure if you can do something? Postpone it but give yourself a time frame. Dreaming about doing things feels nice but accomplishes nothing. It’s a form of lying to yourself.

Spotting cop-out or weasel words is also useful for…

Managers. As someone who manages other people you can see if people are avoiding to make a commitment and make them commit to a project.

Parents. Teach your children to make commitments regarding their homework and other tasks. Listen to see when they’re fishing for a cop-out.

Coaches. After a coaching session it’s helpful to make your clients commit verbally to a course of action.

Word of caution: even if you feel the temptation to point and chastise other people for using cop-out words, doing it too enthusiastically can lead to almost instant loss of rapport. Like with all NLP techniques you must be graceful in how you do things. Try to see things from their perspective as well before you descend the cop-out hammer.

photo credit: IMG_8750

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