What Are Weasel Words?
“Weasel words” are a colloquial term for words or phrases used to avoid being forthright. Weasel words are used when the speaker wants to make it seem like they’ve given a clear answer to a question or made a direct statement when actually they’ve said something inconclusive or vague. Fortunately, weasel words are easy to spot.
Why Shouldn’t Salespeople Use Weasel Words?
Think about every press conference with a disgraced politician or executive you’ve ever seen. What did they have in common? Probably a lot of dodged eye contact, clicking camera shutters, and … you guessed it. Weasel words.
As a salesperson, you’re already fighting an uphill battle to be seen as trustworthy. The reality is that public perception of the profession is less than flattering and fair or not, that’s the assessment you’ll have to overcome. So why sow suspicion in your prospect’s mind right off the bat?
While you may not be using weasel words to be evasive, the following words and phrases weaken your language and can set off alarm bells in buyers’ heads.
11 Weasel Word Examples and Why You Shouldn’t Say Them
1) “Well … “
When buyers ask you questions, give them straightforward answers. Starting your answer with a word commonly associated with equivocation automatically weakens your answers and makes you sound less sure of yourself.
2) “Research shows … ” or, “Experts say … “
Sales reps use these phrases to back up their claims about product usage, business pain, and expected ROI. But you can stick these phrases in front of literally any claim — for example, “Experts say chewing sugarless gum increases concentration” — to make it sound more legitimate. Instead of alluding to faceless, nameless sources, cite your sources if you want to be truly persuasive.
3) “I would say that … “
Many weasel words are only weaselly in context. For example, if a buyer asks, “What’s the best way to do X?” and you have a few options to choose from, you’re well within your rights to qualify your response by indicating it’s your own opinion.
But when you’re being asked a more specific question or one that’s related to your product, steer clear from qualifying phrases, which make it sound like you’re waffling. Answer questions like “Can your product do X?” or “I’m trying to do Y project. How can your product help me with this?” with strong, active language.
Like #2, vague descriptors like “often” raise questions in buyers’ minds. Always be as specific as possible — “40% of our customer base,” or “Almost every prospect in your industry I’ve spoken within the last quarter”, for example.
5) “Probably” or “Possibly”
It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to something. For example, if your buyer will require a highly customized implementation or is a very unusual use case (yes, you should know the answers to common prospect questions cold), you might not have encountered their specific set of needs before.
Just be honest about it. And don’t leave it at, “I don’t know.” Explain why: “I haven’t encountered your exact question before, and I want to make sure I give you a complete answer before I promise anything. Based on what I’ve seen before, [your prediction], but again, I want to confirm that before I give you a definitive answer.”
6) “Some” or “Many”
These two words are a bad choice for the same reason you should steer clear of “often.” They don’t add much legitimacy to your statements and raise more questions than they answer.
When we call upon social proof as an answer, it’s usually because we’re trying to convince people to do something. Instead of saying, “Many of our prospects do X,” explain why they did it, what results they saw, and how that connects to your prospect. Here’s what that sounds like in a real sales conversation:
“You mentioned that you want to see X results. A customer I worked with a few months ago was facing similar challenges. We helped them implement Y and Z projects together and they saw [results]. Given [similarities], I think you would see benefits from this strategy as well. What do you think?”
7) “Could be”
Another phrase used to waffle out of giving a direct answer “could be”makes you sound especially uninformed if you’re trying to explain why something works the way it does or why an event occurred. Take a similar strategy to #5 — provide as much context as you can, then promise to follow up once you have a more concrete answer.
8) “The user” or “The person”
One of the hallmarks of weasel words and phrases is that they create distance between the speaker and the listener so the speaker can remove him or herself from the situation, therefore abdicating responsibility for less-than-desirable results (think politicians’ apology speeches).
Sales reps who use detached language create a sense of distance between their product and the buyer. Always speak directly to the prospect about their situation — “When you use [product] to do [project], you’ll do X, Y, and Z.” This creates a subconscious sense that the product is already part of a prospect’s world, and is a more engaging way to speak to buyers.
9) “Leading” or “Cutting-edge”
You might think that describes your product this way is a selling point. The thinking goes that if your product is the newest or most advanced, surely it’s the best. But words like “cutting-edge” have become so ambiguous as to become meaningless. Many products have differentiators that could be described as somehow advanced or innovative.
Instead, focus the conversation on why it helps the prospect. It only matters if features are innovative if that newness provides value to your prospect they wouldn’t otherwise have. Buyers will quickly lose interest if you ramble on about “cutting-edge” features that add nothing to their lives.
10) “That being said”
This sounds like you’re giving yourself an easy out. For instance, you might say, “Our product has gone through several rounds of quality testing to ensure it’s error-free. That being said … “
It’s obvious what’s coming next — a statement like “We can never guarantee zero flaws,” “It’s possible an issue was overlooked,” and so on. You sound slippery. So steer clear.
11) “With all due respect … “
This phrase makes it clear you’re about to argue with whatever your prospect has just said. While you can and should push back when appropriate, introducing your counterpoint like this will make you seem disingenuous and quickly raise the buyer’s hackles. Instead, acknowledge their point of view with “I see where you’re coming from.” Then ask their permission to speak honestly: “Can I offer a different opinion?”
Once you’ve gotten their buy-in (in a respectful way), they’ll be likelier to change their mind.