How Misused Words Can Affect Our Image

At one time or another, we’ve all been around people (or even perhaps ourselves) that have used words or phrases in a way they are not intended to be used. To some, it can be distracting or even irritating to the ones that are receiving the message.

Regardless of the individual’s background, educational status or level of expertise in an area, the misuse of a word or words can reflect poorly on their reputation or status. Not only can it diminish the message by using the wrong vocabulary, it can also diminish the individual in how they are viewed by others.

We’ve all been there at one time or another and it’s very embarrassing when it happens. It may not seem like a big deal, however, if it’s affecting others or the organization for which you work, you need to do your best to correct it before it escalates and becomes a bigger problem.

Even the simplest words can catch us off-guard from how we perceive them to be and how they are meant to be used. Most times, we don’t even realize we’re using a word incorrectly.

Some of the most common words or phrases people use incorrectly are as follows:

  • Ironic vs. Coincidence
    • There are three different types of irony (verbal, situational, and dramatic). Keep in mind that if something is ironic, it’s the complete opposite of what was/is expected to happen. The most common type of irony we use is verbal irony. Verbal irony is described as using words to mean something different than what someone actually says. For example, “Thank you officer for the ticket as you have just made my day.”
    • Dramatic irony typically occurs in the arts (movies, books, plays, etc.). It occurs when the audience is aware of something the characters aren’t aware of.
    • Situational irony comes into play when there is a discrepancy between what actually happens and what is expected to happen. There is however a difference between situational irony, coincidence and just plain bad luck. For it to be situational irony, something has to happen that leads someone to think a particular event is unlikely to occur.
    • Coincidence is when two or more things happen that are similar as a particular time simply by accident or chance. They are very difficult to explain. For instance, two colleagues where the same outfit into work on the same day…was this planned or coincidence?


  • Affect vs. Effect
    • Affect is typically used as a verb meaning ‘to influence or make a difference to’. For instance, ‘the weather severely affected our plans for the day.’ Effect on the other hand is most commonly used as a noun meaning ‘a result or influence’. For example, ‘James stealing third base had a huge effect on the 8th’ Effect can also be used as a verb meaning ‘to bring something about as a result’.
  • Lie vs. Lay
    • Lie and lay have s definitions, however they’re most often confused. Lie means to reclineand lay means to put down. In order to differentiate between the two: Lay needs to have an object attached to it. Lie cannot have an object attached to it. For example, you might lay a newspaper on the table or lay a shirt on the bed. When you feel tired at the end of the day, you may lie down. But you can’t lie a book anywhere, and you can’t lay down (no object) at the end of the day.
  • The verbs’ inflections are as follows:
verb present tense past tense past participle present participle
lay lay laid laid laying
lie lie lay lain lying


  • Accept vs. Except
    • Although these two words are pronounced the same way, they are spelled differently and have two completely different definitions. Accept is a verb meaning ‘to take or receive something that has been offered to you’. We can accept material or immaterial items. Accept is an action word. It describes what a person does.
    • Except means “other than” or “but not”. We often use it when we want to say “everything but.” Except modifies (describes it or restricts the meaning of) the sentence.
  • Bring vs. Take
    • Keep in mind if the direction of travel is towards you, use bring and if the direction of travel is away from you, use take. You ask someone to bring things to you, and you take things to others. For example, you ask someone to bring you coffee, and you offer to take their dishes to the kitchen.

Some simple words of advice… Whether you’re going into an important meeting, sending a high profile e-mail or preparing notes for a speech, ask a colleague to proof read your documents before you send them out. We’re not perfect and all make mistakes so don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Keep in mind that spelling and grammar checks as they can sometimes steer you in the wrong direction. The best way to ensure you’re using the right word or form of a word is to learn and remember the rules.

Written by Bryan Dodrill

Team Difficulties

Some teams struggle because of workload demands, deadlines to meet, reports to file, committees to serve on, bosses to satisfy.  What can we do to help the struggling teams boost their performance?

To build better teams we can take these steps:

Commit to the goals, roles and norms for guiding the team’s direction.

  • Is there a shared goal(s)?
    • If not, set shared goals(s) with clear and measurable targets.
    • Roles should be well defined and utilize the skills and interests of the team members
  • Establish norms, rules that help you manage communication, decision making and conflict

Check alignment between the agreements that the team members made and what they are actually doing

  • Team behaviors become habits
  • Create a safe environment for team members to feel it is safe to speak their minds
  • Appoint a team member to play devil’s advocate and ask the tough questions

Close the gap between what team members are saying and doing

  • Remind the team members of the goals, determine small, specific steps the team can take to get back on track
  • Carve out time to work on the and be realistic about the challenges you may face along the way
  • Highlight the positive impact the changes will have

HR Magazine, “Team Troubles”,  Dori Meinert, February 2017