Being an effective communicator is key to getting ahead at work. And a big part of that is knowing what not to communicate–i.e. what buzzwords to avoid, which email phrases do you no good, and even what not to say to avoid irking people in some way.
I’m not talking about being paranoid about every word you utter. I’m talking about knowing the big watch-out phrases that can do you no good and that you’d simply be better off avoiding.
That’s where I come in. What follows are eight things that say things about you that you don’t want, according to what I’ve seen over my three decades of corporate experience at Procter & Gamble and Citicorp-Citibank. I’ve heard a bevy of grating phrases used in meetings and at the water-cooler and watched them not have a great effect on the audience (drawing scowls or report backs to that person’s boss). These are the worst of the worst.
1. “Not my square.”
What you’re really saying is, “I don’t want accountability and I don’t want to think or act outside the box.” It’s almost impossible not to generate a negative impression by saying this because it’s all about what you won’t or can’t do.
It’s fine to indicate that something’s not your responsibility, but when you do so, it’s off-putting if you don’t make an effort to helpfully direct that person to who is responsible.
2. “You’re on your own.”
This is related to the above but different. This goes beyond “not my responsibility” to “I’m not willing to help you.” It’s verbal distancing, blame shifting, and just plain callous. You may as well say, “I’m abandoning you.”
3. “I’m just following orders.”
This makes you sound like a lemming. It makes you seem weak, unable to push back and stand up for yourself, and like you’re dodging any accountability. It also makes you seem as if you don’t have any original thought.
4. Anything that bashes the boss.
If you’ll talk smack about the boss, what will you say about me when I’m not around? And to me, you have to be fairly dimwitted to be so bold as to openly talk badly about a boss. That’s just not smart. What makes anyone think they’re going to get away with it or that any good at all can come out of it?
To be fair, I’m not talking about a bunch of close friends blowing off steam after work about a toxic boss, I’m taking about everyday conversation at work turning into a “boss-labeling” session.
5. “I’m the new guy/girl, but …”
Actually, this phrase isn’t a problem if you’re in your first week on the job. But that’s as long as you can get away with saying this, from my experience. I’ve seen people ride this sentiment almost a year into their assignment. You just lose credibility when you hold onto this phrase too long. It comes across as making excuses and looking to be absolved from accountability or having to know what you’re talking about.
6. “I’m sorry” (if you say it too much).
It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone who says they’re sorry too much. Sorry, but it’s true. They come across as a bit pitiful and meek with low self-esteem and in need of approval. It also denotes people-pleaser tendencies, which don’t garner respect.
It’s one thing to say “I’m sorry” when it’s warranted, but using it as a default will make people question if you’re confident enough to lead.
7. “It’s not my fault.”
Even if it isn’t your fault, no one likes hearing you point this out. You can’t help but sound defensive when you say this, as well as a bit immature. Leaders take accountability and don’t dodge or shift blame. In no way does this phrase make you sound like a leader.
8. “I’ll look into it.”
What you mean is “I’m not going to give this another second of consideration.” It’s a classic brush-off tactic and it comes across a bit patronizing. It’s vague enough as to not promise anything but makes it sound like specific action will follow, which is disingenuous. And if you do indeed intend to “look into it,” it undersells the vigor of your intent.
Some things are just better left unsaid. And if you avoid saying these eight things, that says a lot.