10 phrases to strike from your vocabulary right now
The way you communicate at work can make or break your career opportunities, and there are certain things you should never say because they make you sound whiny, unprofessional, and/or just plain annoying. Nobody wants to work with an annoying, unprofessional whiner.
(Whenever I want to write something about things you should never do or say during the job interview or at work, my boss argues that the list is actually endless. Technically, he’s right. There are probably thousands of things you shouldn’t say at work, like “I’ve got a can of spray cheese and I’m not afraid to use it!” and “I just peed on the floor.” But I’m going to assume you understand that what I mean is “10 things you should never say at work, that people often do say.”)
Here are 10 of those things. Avoid letting them pass your lips lest you sully your professional reputation.
“That’s not my job.” I’ve talked about this before and it turned out to be a controversial topic, but I stand by it. In 2009, I read an interview with Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter in Fortune magazine. He said, “If you automatically assume it’s your responsibility and do something about it, that makes the company better. Those who can recognize that are the ones who end up being more successful.”
What I took from this: Don’t refuse a responsibility that you are capable of taking on based on the misguided notion that the responsibility is not yours. You will be better off.
“It’s not my fault.” Maybe something didn’t get done because the computer broke down, the weather was bad, the dog ate your report, the kid was sick, or you were abducted by aliens. But when bad things happen, you have to find a way around them, and get whatever it is that need doing done. If you don’t, it’s still your fault. You’re not the only one who is on the hook. Stakeholders are relying on you to do your part, and if you don’t do it – because of the aliens or whatever – everyone is left holding the bag.
“It’s Dave’s fault.” Remember when you were in kindergarten and the teacher would say that “Nobody likes a tattle tale,” which was SO UNFAIR, because how else are they supposed to find out that it was Dave who drew on the wall? That hasn’t changed. You still can’t tattle without looking like a petty whiner, and it’s still not fair.
“It’s not fair!” You’re right. Life’s not fair. Suck it up. The find a way to learn and grow from the experience.
“OMG, did you hear about Michel?! He’s totally having an affair with the boss!” Don’t gossip. Nothing anybody does that does not directly affect you is any of your business. If Michel really is having an affair with the boss, and you think it does directly affect you – say you’re going to be passed over for a promotion in favour of Michel, you’ll have to think about your options. Complain to HR? Look for a new job? Quit? Whispering about it with your colleagues should not be one of those options.
“[Inserts boss’s name] is such a dumbass.” Don’t talk smack about your boss, or anyone else for that matter, even if everyone else is doing so. It’s unbecoming of you and it’s mean to your boss. Even if your boss is mean or stupid or incompetent, that’s not a good enough reason to insult him/her behind his/her back. While it might bond you to your coworkers in the moment, ultimately malicious talk spreads ill feeling like a disease. Also, people are unreliable and untrustworthy. How can you be sure whoever it is you’re commiserating with won’t throw you under the bus at the first opportunity?
“Honestly…” You might think you’re emphasizing a point but prefacing a statement with “honestly” makes people wonder if you’re less than honest the rest of the time. Brian de Haaf writes on LinkedIn that he believes “honestly” is the most damaging word in business. “To be credible,” he says, “you should be straightforward every time. And when you are, no qualifier like ‘honestly’ is needed. Authenticity is the only honesty you need.”
This also includes “In all honesty…” “To tell you the truth…” and “I’m not gonna lie to you….”
“I can’t.” My boss’s mom used to say, “Can’t means don’t want to.” In most cases, she’s right. You usually can if you want to, and the people who want to are the people who get ahead.
“Sarah booked a meeting from 12-1 and that’s my lunchtime!” Don’t complain. Nobody likes a whiner, except maybe other whiners.
“I can’t work with Peter/Elizabeth/Mathieu…” Yes, grown adults actually say they are unable to work alongside other grown adults. You are not 12, this is not day camp, and you don’t have to get along. But you do have the get the job done. Grow up.
Obviously there are exceptions to some of these. Like, if you’re a receptionist and someone asks you to build a nuclear fission reactor, then both No. 1 (“that’s not my job”) and No. 8 (“I can’t”) might apply. Or, if there is a hurricane that floods your entire city and you miss the meeting because you have to swim to safety, the maybe you can say No. 2 (“It’s not my fault”). But this is common sense. Don’t get hung up on willfully obtuse thinking – you’ll only be hurting yourself. Avoid saying all of these things in most cases, and you’ll be better off.
Anyway, if you are a receptionist who manages to build a nuclear fission reactor, I bet you’re destined to be successful.