Stop Undermining Your Ideas Before You Suggest Them

Stop Undermining Your Ideas Before You Suggest Them

This may be stupid, I don’t know, but tell me if you’ve ever started pitching an idea the way I started this sentence. If you’re in the habit of putting down your ideas before you even suggest them, try to cut that habit.

Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras.

As business blog Entrepreneur points out, when you begin your pitches by immediately undermining your own ideas, the only thing you’re accomplishing is displaying a lack of confidence. You’re pitching this idea for a reason. Own it. Let the idea be judged on its own merits, rather than sabotaging it with your presentation:

These overly passive phrases instantly erode your credibility. Even if you follow these phrases with a great idea, they suggest that you lack confidence, which makes the people you’re speaking to lose confidence in you.

Don’t be your own worst critic. If you’re not confident in what you’re saying, no one else will be either. And, if you really don’t know something, say, “I don’t have that information right now, but I’ll find out and get right back to you.”

If you absolutely have to preface your idea, try a positive spin. For example, “This may not be our usual style, but I think it could go really well!” Try to keep in mind the reasons that you’re suggesting an idea in the first place. If you have a reason to mention it, you have a reason to be confident in it.

11 Things Smart People Don’t Say [Entrepreneur]


  • Kids learn this very early. It’s not great.

    I did some time as a teacher’s aide and remember taking a group of three kids for some maths catch-up. They did their work and handed it over saying, “I’m finished… but it’s probably not right.” All three said a similar thing.

    I just arched an eyebrow and said, “Then why the hell are you giving it to me? I don’t want something you think is wrong. Go back, do it so you think it’s right, and give me THAT.”

    They were taken aback, didn’t know how to react.
    They looked it over, thought, and then handed it back again, saying, “I think it’s right.”
    Wasn’t sure if I should accept that as simply being lazy, but I had a look over and said, “Yup. It’s right. Why’d you think it wasn’t?”
    “Because we’re the dumb group.”

    They were cushioning their egos by putting themselves down in advance.

    • I’m not sure if I’m agreeing with you or disagreeing (or going off on a tangent…). I never worked as a teacher, though I did do 3 yrs as a tutor, more as a part time lab demonstrator in university and a couple yrs as a post-doc handling undergrads and postgrads.

      Kids definitely need to have the confidence to present their ideas. I feel (and its purely anecdotal) that society as a whole is kind of struggling to demonstrate a difference between having confidence because you have taken the time and care to understand and work through a problem and a overbearing confidence based on ego.

      If you have worked through a problem with a proper procedure, then even if you have made a mistake, a wrong assumption in your reasoning it is a) still a mistake, but b) forgivable and most importantly c) something to learn from…

      On the other hand if its based on ego i.e. the conclusion is heavily based on assumptions and large leaps in reasoning then even if its correct it should be avoided.

      Its the same issue I feel with education and the concept of failure (once again very anecdotal). I feel that we’re not fully differentiating between the idea “failure is not acceptable”, “it’s okay to fail but it should still suck” and “you tried your best the all that counts” (which people misconstrue as being “okay to be mediocre”)

      • Yeah, I’m not on board with the, “Everyone is inherently special!” thing (because if everyone is… no-one is), or the, “You can win if you just want it more than anyone else!” (well, no… you also have to work as much as everyone else, if not more – wanting it more is just the tie-breaker), or “All that matters is that you tried!” because the definition of ‘tried’ is all-too-often exceptionally generous, including mere ‘participation’. There’s a big difference between trying and just turning up.

        That said… I’m not a teacher either. I don’t know what makes a kid do the work, think it’s wrong or just say it’s wrong, preparing themselves mentally and emotionally to be criticized for failing. Something wrong with the feedback loop there, perhaps, I dunno.

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