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Actually, It May Be Time To Drop That Word

Beware this insidious word in the workplace

Actually is an interesting word. In most contexts it is perfectly benign, a handy way to signal surprise. People can use it to talk about themselves, as in, “I only got a few hours of sleep last night, but I’m actually feeling pretty good.” And it’s fine when talking about something going on in the wider world, as in, “Despite all the turmoil, the stock market is actually holding up pretty well.”

The trouble starts when people use it when they are talking about a colleague. That’s when it can become a microaggression — one that’s so subtle that it’s worthy of a new category: nanoaggression.

Here’s why it’s a problem. If you sit in thousands of meetings over the course of your career — as I have, as a former newspaper and magazine editor, and now as a leadership consultant working with senior executives from startups and Fortune 500 companies alike — you start to notice how some people talk about colleagues’ work. “Tom sent me the proposal, and it’s actually pretty good.” “Yeah, that suggestion actually came from Jane.” “I actually like that idea.”

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