If you were on an operating table and the heart surgeon came in and said, “I think we can save you” or while donning your new body armor, the manufacturer says, “I believe this vest may stop 9mm rounds.” Do the words thinkand believefill you with overwhelming confidence? We want the surgeon to say you willsurvive and the manufacturer to say your vest is 100% guaranteed to stop 9mm rounds. The words think, believe, feel, may, might, and other similar words are fine, however used in an oral interview and repeatedly; tend to be viewed as weak (lacking confidence and command) or uncertain (lacking decisiveness or experience) and they exemplify a candidate who may not be ready to assume a command position.
I developed the term, “Pretext Justification” to identify the language and statements we commonly use that are weak and expresses a lack of verbal commitment or support of the answer being presented. Pretext Justifications are pre-answer excuses for what is about to be said. It is a rationalization for an answer that might not be up to par. Candidates create a verbal safety net by offering unneeded explanations to prepare the interview panel for an answer that the candidate thinks is less than what might be expected. Here are some examples:
“I’m not sure if this is correct, but… “
“Keeping in mind, I have not had training in this area, I would… “
“The way we usually do that is… “
“You probably won’t believe this, but… “
“The last time I was in that situation, I… “
Statements like these can mitigate what could otherwise be a great answer. Saying you’re not sure if this is correct is telling the panel that you are unprepared and are going to take a guess. Uttering you have not had training in this area is foolish. What if your answer was outstanding? Why lessen it by such pre-answer rationalization. The way we usually do that is a way to avoid accountability for the action illustrated in your answer. When you say we, you’re spreading the blame for a potentially bad answer. The panel wants to know how youdo it and they don’t want to know how you usually did it in the past as an officer; they want to know how you will do it in the future as a sergeant or lieutenant.
As you practice, carefully monitor areas that can be identified as pretext justification and replace weak words, ineffectual statements, and excuse-based validations with positive language (I can; I know; I will;etc.) that represents confidence and composure. Test well!