They have the power to clarify, inform, educate, inspire, and motivate. And on the job, what you say can make a big difference in the way you’re perceived, and whether or not you agree with it, perception is a necessary component of professional success.
To help you communicate with confidence and credibility, here are fifteen things you should never say at work.
1. “It’s not my job”
If you’re requested to do something that is out of your job description, it isn’t always because a boss is trying to take advantage of you (although that may sometimes be the case). Often, it’s because a manager believes you can perform the task. It is, in a sense, a challenge, and if you respond with “it’s not my job,” you’re letting them know that you’re not up to that challenge (and, in some cases, not a team player).
If you feel as if you don’t have the time, resources, or skills to perform the task, let it be known, but use this kind of response instead: “I can do this, but I may need some clarification and assistance. Is there someone that can guide me?” This makes it clear that it’s out of the scope of your normal tasks, but shows that you’re willing to help the team and learn something new.
2. “It’s not fair”
Bill Gates said it and your parents probably did too: life is not fair. We all have to cope with challenges and obstacles. If there is an issue you encounter at work, assemble the facts, book a meeting with your manager, and discuss it. You don’t, however, want to talk about fairness. You want to instead focus on how this issue is affecting your performance and job satisfaction.
3. “I think that …”
This is a natural way to bring up an opinion for many people, but it’s not a very persuasive way to present ideas. To seem more sure of yourself, replace it with words of conviction: “I believe that,” “I am certain that,” or “I trust that.”
4. “I will try to …”
Ooh la la, when I hear this sentence, I lose confidence right away. It implies that there is the possibility that whatever I am requesting, may not be done. Instead, use “I will …” and my confidence in you will instantly return. If you think you’re unable to do it within the timeline, say so and present a more realistic option.
5. “Maybe it’s stupid, but …”
By saying that it’s stupid, you just minimized your own words and ideas. You are thus sowing doubt. Others may think “If it’s stupid, maybe he’s stupid?”
Remove this preface. State your ideas clearly and confidently. “I have a suggestion… ” or “Have you ever thought about it this way?” are ways that you can preface a suggestion that are far more confident.
6. “I don’t have time to talk right now”
If the phone rings and you’re incapable of talking, don’t take the call! Let your voicemail do its job. Otherwise it may come across the wrong way. Similarly, if you run into someone at the office and you’re in a hurry, tell them and offer to book a meeting later to discuss whatever is on their mind. This shows that you value your co-workers and clients, as well as your daily agenda!
7. “To be honest with you” or “To tell you the truth”
It may seem silly, but prefacing statements this way can make the person you’re talking to think “Were you lying to me in the past?” or “Have you been keeping things from me?” Cut out these phrases to remove any doubt about your honesty and transparency.
8. “Always” or “Never”
As Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Star Wars, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Asserting something in this way could put you in an embarrassing situation in the future.
9. “Impossible” or “It can’t be done”
Nobody likes a negative and pessimistic attitude. If you’re asked to do something, it’s because they believe it’s possible and they believe in you. If you have concerns about actually getting it done, respond instead with, “Let me look into our options and resources, and I’ll get back to you. “
10. “It’s just a joke!”
If you have to say this, it’s probably because you’ve upset someone. Instead of saying it was a joke, it might be better to to apologize for your insensitivity (and keep future jokes to yourself).
11. “I just want to know” or “I just want to say”
These words are superfluous. They denote hesitation and a lack of confidence. Avoid them. Be direct and say what you mean.
12. “Maybe” or “It depends”
When you are asked a question, a clear answer is almost always preferred. Strive to say “Yes” or “No” or at least present options. If you need additional information, ask for clarification. If it’s a matter of time, add these details.
13. “$ # @% ?! “
Workopolis has in the past written about why it may be good to swear at work
, but I would disagree. Cursing at work can paint a negative picture of your character and professionalism, both of which can minimize your credibility and reduce your chances of advancement.
14. “WOW! Fan-tas-tic!”: all day long
If everything is great, nothing is. Right? It’s one thing to be positive, but if you over do it, you’ll only end up annoying some of your colleagues.
15. “No problem”
This seems to be an increasingly common replacement for “You’re welcome.” The thing is, it can give the wrong impression, namely that the person asking for your help has been a bother. After all, who said anything about there being a problem? Instead, stick to the tried and true “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure,” and you will come across as being much friendlier.
Well, there you have it. I know, it’s probably easier to write than to do. But it can be done. Start by observing others. What do they say and what reactions do they get? What works well in meetings, conversations, negotiations, and presentations? With your observations, and the tips in this post, you’ll soon be communicating in a positive way, broadcasting confidence and credibility.
Julie Blais Comeau is Chief Etiquette Officer at etiquettejulie.com. She is a bilingual coach, professional speaker and the author of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Julie empowers organizations with the skills that allow employees to shine at work and boost their business opportunities. A sought-after media collaborator she has been featured on CBC, CTV, Reader’s Digest, TVA and Radio-Canada, among others.