Don’t Underhand Your Pitch

At one time or another we’ve all done it. We have.

Instead of making a simple direct statement of our ideas, feelings, or opinions, we preface it with a “devalue tag.”

Before we deliver our statement, we apologize, ask permission, or smooth the waters in advance and give the appearance our thoughts aren’t all that important or valuable. We devalue what we are going to say even before we say it.

It  goes like this:

  • Instead of saying, “Wednesday is the best day to roll out the project,” we say, “Well, I was thinking maybe Wednesday is…”
  • Instead of saying, “This budget is too tight to achieve the goals,” we say, “If you’re asking me, this budget is…”
  • Instead of saying, “I disagree with this and I think we should do it differently,” we say, “I’m sorry, but I disagree and I was thinking…”

Does that sound familiar? How about this:

  • “I heard once…”
  • “I really don’t want to rock the boat…”
  • “If it’s okay with everybody here…”
  • “I’m not sure about this, but…”
  • “If you have time…”
  • “It’s just my opinion, but…”

Every one of these devalue tags indicates an unwillingness to stand up and directly speak our mind.  We underhand our pitch to soften the impact of our words, overly worried about the consequences. Much of this is due to our desire to build consensus and keep the peace, which, isn’t a bad thing at all – but it shouldn’t be done at our own expense.

There is nothing wrong with making a simple declarative statement such as, “I disagree.” Say it with a smile and then go into the reasons why you disagree. Don’t apologize in advance, don’t ask permission, and don’t downplay your opinion. You don’t have to be harsh or brash, but don’t feel you are second-class either. Your ideas, thoughts, and opinions are just as worthy as anything your peers have to offer and your presentation should reflect that.

To gain more respect for your ideas and opinions in the workplace, or anywhere for that matter, strip as many devalue tags from your conversation as possible. Some will creep back in but the less you use them the better off you’ll be.

Don’t underhand your pitch with devalue tags. Speak directly and throw a few high hard ones now and then.

You’ll earn the respect your words deserve.

About the Author

Kim Urban

Kim is a 16-year human resource professional. She served in the automotive, information technology, software development, Internet privacy, and insurance fields. She currently works as a senior human resources generalist for a California workers’ compensation insurance company. She writes articles on her blog, Kim’s HR Potpourri and specializes in California HR issues. You can connect with Kim on Twitter as @KimUrbanMSHR and on LinkedIn.


William Gould


Great post! How we speak is just as important – if not more important – than what we speak. How about the other side of the coin? We all work with people who are prone to steamrolling others. They are the people who dominate meetings, and who are so forceful that they shut the dialogue down – others are not willing to challenge them.

The book Crucial Conversations (and the training on the material) addresses how to talk when things are difficult. One of the skills they discuss is learning how to “talk tentatively.” Talking tentatively does not mean underhanding you pitch, or watering it down; but rather stating your point confidently and in such a way that others are willing to discuss it with you. The authors’ take is that having the ability to talk tentatively actually helps others to open up and feel “safe” to enter into dialogue.

I’ll confess that I am conscious of being too forceful on issues that are very important to me, and I work on (and have asked colleagues to give me feedback about) being more tentative so that others will feel safe to speak up.

I think that the important point is that we need to create an environment where people feel safe to speak up. For some, that is learning to be more tentative, and for others that is being willing to speak very directly to get our points across. Either way, we need to be authentic.

Was I too forceful? 🙂

Dave Ryan

There are words like – maybe – possibly -likely that I call waffle words, you have taken it to the phrased use of waffle words. And Kim you are right it keeps people form really owning their own declaritive statments. YES – I THINK IT IS A GOOD IDEA. I referee ice hockey and we are tatught when calling a penalty TO say it LOUD and say it PROUD. This would be a good concept to adopt in business. Good Post Kim!

Mike Grindell

Kim – good, strong post – my only add is that as well face what seems an increasingly divisive period of time in our culture, its very important to make visible the “why” and data behind a strong statement – you make that point in your post, worth reinforcing

have a great weekend


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *