Passive people with low self-confidence frequently use language that takes their power away. These de-emphasizers weaken their own statements so they won’t provoke opposition, criticism or disagreement from others. They make passive people feel safe, so in case they are opposed by other people, they will be able to change what they have just said.

In his book Power-talk!, Jeffrey Eisen identifies four patterns of speech that make people think they can take advantage of you: tag questions, qualifiers, disclaimers and fillers. This article describes the first two.

Tag Questions

Tag questions are used to question a statement that you just made. They weaken statements of opinion, feeling, belief or intention and signal to the other person that you’re not sure of yourself and that you are willing to retract your opinion if it’s not acceptable.

When you add a question at the end of a statement you made, it’s as though you’re saying, “You’re wiser or better than me, so I’m speaking in a tentative manner for you to either approve or reject what I’m saying. If you reject it, I’ll take it back and go along with you. Just don’t reject me as a person.”

Notice how these tag questions undermine the strength of the statements of the passive person.

• This is a great movie, don’t you think?

• This should be painted blue, shouldn’t it?

• This dinner isn’t very good, don’t you agree?

• I think it’s a very nice car, don’t you?

• The president of the company is doing a good job, isn’t he?

• I really should quit my job, shouldn’t I?

If you notice that you’re using a lot of tag questions, make a determined effort to drop them. It is much more assertive to make a statement by itself. Don’t ask for the other person’s permission to hold your opinion or feeling. Don’t change your opinion just because the other person disagrees.

If you want to ask the other person’s opinion, state yours first, then ask the other person about theirs in a way that doesn’t invite them to agree with your opinion. Here’s an example: “I liked that movie. I thought the scenery was beautiful and the characters were believable. What was your opinion of the movie?”


Qualifiers also weaken statements you make. Unlike ending questions that work by doubting the statement, qualifiers evade. The addition of a qualifier minimizes a statement of opinion.

This is a listing of qualifiers that you want to avoid:

• kind of

• a little

• perhaps

• well

• sort of

• somewhat

• pretty

• I wonder if

• I don’t think

• really

• more or less

• might

• almost

• kind of

• fairly

• probably

• almost

There are many places in sentences where qualifiers are used. “Well” and “I wonder” are qualifiers when they’re used at the beginning of sentences. Qualifiers such as “kind of,” “a little,” “sort of,” and “somewhat” are generally in the middle of sentences. “Perhaps” can be used in the beginning or the middle.

The following sentences use qualifiers. Notice how the statements are weakened by them.

• I kind of like going to the ocean.

• I’m fairly certain this is how I want to do it.

• Well, I don’t think asking for a raise now is a good thing to do.

• It’s somewhat of a good movie.

• You’re probably right.

• I’m a little uneasy about going on the trip.

• I don’t really want to go to the mall now.

• I might want to go dancing tonight.

• That’s more or less how I see it.

• I’m pretty sure I need to go to the doctor now.

• I wonder if that’s a good idea.

• Almost no one wears clothes like that.

If you use qualifiers, take them out of your sentences and speak the sentences with strength and assertiveness without qualifying them and making them without force.


Carry around a small notebook for a few days and write down every time you use a tag question or qualifier and what you said. Don’t change your language at all. At the end of that time, make a list of each tag question or qualifier and how many times you said it. Put the one you said the most at the top of your list and list them by frequency. Work on eliminating the top two from your speech. When you’ve mastered that, work on eliminating the next two, and so forth, until they have disappeared from your speech. I promise that you’ll be sounding more assertive when you have no tag questions or qualifiers in your speech.

Author's Bio: 

Vivian Harte is the co-author of Self-Esteem for Dummies in the Dummies series. She has helped over 12,000 people learn and use assertiveness skills during the last 14 years. She teaches online classes on assertiveness, self-confidence, and teamwork. She has a Bachelors degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Public Administration. She taught college classes for many years in Tucson, Arizona. She has two grown children who are both successful. She lives in Tucson with her husband, three dogs and two cats.

She offers kits with articles, guided visualizations, and songs as well as online courses, group coaching and 1-on-1 coaching, and you can find out more about these at her website, Discover how to be a stronger, more assertive person by downloading her free kit Develop Assertiveness for Strength!