By Andy Bailey

Of all the entrepreneurial lessons I learned through building, selling and exiting my first business, the moments having to do with language stand out as some of the toughest. Knowing which words to use and which words to avoid in business was one of my first challenges as a CEO, and to this day, it can still be an obstacle.

As a business coach, I recognize a similar battle in other company leaders. It’s not surprising, since leaders often face the same challenges (and the same opportunities.) The more companies I work with, the more I realize that language is a significant component of all business relationships – from sales to company culture.

If you’re a leader, it’s important to know which words you’re using and why you’re using them. Below are four examples of common negative words and their more appropriate alternatives, which can have positive outcomes on business:


The term “price” doesn’t seem like a bad word, does it? After all, the price is just the monetary value we assign. Well, that word is often connected to less positive thoughts such as “how much is this going to cost me?” or “what is the real cost of doing business with you?” – neither the most desirable association. Instead of using a word that has ties to straightforward cost, replace “price” with a more mutually beneficial term, such as “investment,” which signals to the listening party a sense of trust and positivity.


Are you using “deal” to refer to a big win? You could be hurting a business agreement right away without knowing it. By using “deal,” you’re putting the focus on the act of selling itself, instead of looking at the work involved as part of the agreement. A good alternative is “opportunity,” which speaks to the responsibility of the job, but doesn’t lose any of the positivity or excitement in the moment.


This common wording error is a one that I hear a lot in my conversations with client companies. After all, nearly all businesses have “customers” of some sort. But if you’re still calling them that, try referring to them instead as a “client.” The term “customer” feels cold and one-sided, speaking only to the transactional nature of the relationship. Alternatively, the word “client” brings up connotations of a positive, confidential, unique relationship, which it should be.


One of the most common “bad words” in business is “try.” It also happens to be the focus of my new book, No Try, Only Do – in which I talk about the lack of inspiration or effort tied to “trying.” Sure, it can seem realistic and safe to not promise specific results, and it can be tempting to soft-sell tasks to keep both sides of a conversation happy. But that’s a misconception, because it’s still expected that those tasks will get completed, no matter how wishy-washy you were about it. That’s why switching the language to “I will” is so important. Giving a firm “I will” instead of “try” not only illustrates full commitment, but it helps to empower you in the task that lies ahead.

It’s time to change the language of business. Encourage your team members to stop relying on weak language and instead think about the words they’re using. If you do, you’ll be able to inspire clients and coworkers alike with motivating and positive conversations.

Andy Bailey is the author of No Try Only Do: Building a Business on Purpose, Alignment, and Accountability. He is CEO and head coach with business coaching firm Petra Coach and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the Scaling Up movement. Visit his blog at for more business and leadership insight.