10 expressions you should never use in the workplace if you want to keep your job

Don’t you just hate it when you have a great idea to improve a process at work and your colleagues say: “But this is the way it’s always been done”.

That phrase totally deflates any enthusiasm and stops progress.

Anyone uttering it should be hung upside down from a flimsy light fixture.

Want to know some other similar idiotic phrases you should avoid at work? At least, smart people know not to utter them.

“It’s not my fault”

If it’s not your fault, whose is it? And are you going to tell? Best not, you know. Nobody likes a tattle tale. Best own up to your part in the mess-up. If you really had no part in it simply state the facts as you see it and let the facts speak for themselves. People will draw their own conclusions about who’s to blame. The moment you start pointing fingers is the moment people start seeing you as someone who lacks accountability for their actions. This makes people nervous. Some will avoid working with you altogether, and others will strike first and blame you when something goes wrong.

“I can’t”

This is a poor choice of words on so many levels. First of all, do you really want to admit that you’re incompetent? Secondly, people tend to hear “I won’t” rather than “I can’t”. Saying “I can’t” sounds as if you are being uncooperative.

Whatever you do, never admit that you can’t do something. If you lack the skills, of course you should admit to it, but in the same breath make it clear that you can learn the skill. If you say “I can’t” it sounds as if you think you won’t ever be able to do it.

Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmart, suggests instead of saying what you can’t do, say what you can do. For example, instead of saying “I can’t stay late tonight,” say “I can come in early tomorrow morning. Will that work?”

“It’s not fair”

Wake up and smell the roses: life isn’t fair. Full stop. No need to bemoan the fact – you just come across as hopelessly idealistic, naïve and inexperienced.

If you feel that you have been treated unfairly, find another way to talk about the situation. If you say ‘It’s unfair’, you come across as a loser who has no answer to the situation.

Bradberry suggests: “For instance, you could say, ‘I noticed that you assigned Ann that big project I was hoping for. Would you mind telling me what went into that decision? I’d like to know why you thought I wasn’t a good fit, so that I can work on improving those skills.’”

“That’s not in my job description”

This just makes you sound like an unhelpful, inconsiderate jerk. Life happens and sometimes we all have to jump in and do our bit. If you want to stick to the letter, be prepared to be overlooked when bonus time comes.

If you get asked to do something that you consider outside your job description, do it anyway. You never know where it can lead to. If it keeps happening and takes too much time away from your own work, discuss the situation with your boss with the aim to better understand your role at the company, not to moan about extra work.

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“This ensures that you avoid looking petty. It also enables you and your boss to develop a long-term understanding of what you should and shouldn’t be doing.” Says Bradberry.

“This may be a silly idea/I’m going to ask a stupid question”

Never put yourself down in front of others. It can come across as insincere and besides, if people sense that you really don’t have faith in yourself, they certainly will not either.

If you don’t have confidence in your opinion, keep quiet until you’ve thought things through and say that you need more time to form an opinion. You can say: “I’ll get right back you as soon as I have my facts straight.”

“I’ll try”

This is just lame. Trying to do something is not the same as doing it. If you tell me you’ll try, I’m thinking you’re incompetent. It also sounds as if you don’t think that you can actually do the task.

If you’re asked to do something, either commit to doing it or offer an alternative, but don’t say that you’ll try because it sounds like you won’t try all that hard.

“This will only take a minute”

Does anyone ever believe these words? We all know that few things in life just take a minute. You may of course just be using this expression and not mean that the task will literally only take a minute, but in today’s world where people have little time to wait for things to get done, don’t annoy people with false promises. Simply say ‘It won’t take long’.

“I hate this job”

These words are a big no-no. Nothing good can come from this kind of negativity. It just makes everyone around you negative as well. Soon everyone feels down. This kind of attitude is the quickest way to get booted out the door.

“He’s lazy/incompetent/a jerk”

This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but this time the negativity is aimed at t co-worker, another big and pointless no-no.

Thing is, if what you have to say is true, chances are that everyone will already be aware of the fact so there’s no point in you stating it as well. If your remark is inaccurate, you’ve just made a complete ass of yourself.

Remember, whatever you say about others reflects on you. If you describe a colleague as incompetent, the remark reflects on your own possible lack of competency and people pick up on that. You can never look good by putting others down. That’s a fact of life.

This article is based on a similar article that appeared on The Ladders.

Written by Coert Engels

I'm a South African based writer and am passionate about exploring the latest ideas in artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. I also focus on the human condition, with a particular interest human intuition and creativity. To share some feedback about my articles, email me at [email protected]

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