9 things emotionally intelligent people avoid saying at work (even if they’re frustrated)

…So you know what phrases to avoid!

It can be challenging to catch your tongue before that smarmy, passive-aggressive comeback rolls out your mouth after discovering someone stole your office lunch. Again.

And whether uttered audibly or over email, sarcastic remarks tend not to have a place in the workplace.

Luckily enough, those with high emotional intelligence (EQ) possess a superpower: The ability to navigate even the most frustrating work situations with grace and tact. 

This isn’t about suppressing genuine emotions; instead, it’s about finding constructive ways to express them while maintaining professionalism and respect.

So, let’s explore 9 phrases that emotionally intelligent individuals tend to strike from their work vocabulary:

1) “That’s not my job.”

Picture this: a tight deadline looms, and a colleague desperately requests help with a task slightly outside your usual scope. 

The knee-jerk “that’s not my job” response signals a focus on rigid boundaries and unwillingness to be a team player

Emotionally intelligent individuals understand the value of collaboration, and don’t tend to mind pitching in elsewhere when they’re needed. They know the importance of working together to get the job done.

So, instead of shooing their colleagues away, they might say, “I’m swamped at the moment, but how about we find a solution together? Maybe I can tackle part of the task, or could someone else on the team step in?”

2) “It’s not fair!”

Life, and the workplace it often mimics, isn’t always fair. 

Whining about perceived injustices can make you appear immature and focused on negativity. Emotionally intelligent people understand that sometimes, things just don’t go their way. 

Yet, you won’t catch them stamping their feet and wailing about the unfairness of it all.

Instead, they focus on what they can control. They take a deep breath to recenter their emotions, and then move on – with grace.

3) “You’re wrong.”

Bluntly telling someone they’re wrong can ignite defensiveness and shut down productive conversations. There are few situations where shoving in such a coarse and negative phrase works well.

So, even if they very firmly disagree, emotionally intelligent individuals soften the blow and provide a follow up explaining why they disagree with the person, and what their alternative is.

Consider phrases like “I see it differently. Here’s my perspective…” or even “Interesting point!  Have you also considered…?” 

Opening up the floor to initiate a back-and-forth debate tends to be far more productive in initiating collaboration and allowing everyone to share their ideas.

4) “I told you so.”

Your coworkers are not your siblings. Even if they do stumble and fall after ignoring your advice, resist the urge to unleash a smug “I told you so.”

While internally relishing vindication might provide a brief ego boost, it does nothing to solve the problem or build trust. 

In addition, people don’t tend to take well to gloating and arrogance, and benefit far more from support and reassurance if they do slip up. 

So, even if you’re cackling away on the inside, knowing full well you gave them advice not to go down that path, resist! 

Swap out this phrase for something more compassionate, like “That’s a tough break. How can I help you get back on track?”

5) “You always…”/”You never…”

“You alway leave the printer running, Jean! Always!”

But Jean is just one of many culprits behind soaring electricity bills. Little do you know the entire office is guilty.

This is why avoiding sweeping generalizations laced with “always” and “never” tends to be the best route, particularly when dissecting conflict. These broad and all-encompassing statements leave little room for nuance. 

Not only are these statements rarely accurate, but they also put the other person on the defensive. Emotionally intelligent communicators focus on specifics. 

Instead of “You never turn off the printer” try, “Would you mind turning off the printer after using it today? Thanks!”

6) “That’s a stupid idea.”

Directly insulting someone’s idea is a recipe for hurt feelings and stifled creativity. What’s more, is that often we are blind to the goodness of other people’s ideas (particularly if they contradict our own.)

So, whether you think something is a good idea or not, find ways to offer constructive criticism without crushing spirits. 

Try a feedback sandwich (where you cushion negative feedback with something positive): “I love your idea about bringing your kids to work for a day! What if we explored a slightly different approach (and only brought dogs instead)?”

7) Dead silence (AKA ghosting treatment)

Refusing to respond to emails or requests at all, especially when frustrated, is unprofessional and disrespectful. 

If you need time to cool off before addressing something, be transparent. 

Instead of ghosting a colleague or client, try “I need to gather my thoughts on this. Can we circle back tomorrow?” 

Emotionally intelligent individuals understand the power of honest communication. They aren’t afraid to take space and decompress, but will always let the other person know they intend to do this first.

8) “Figure it out yourself.”

Snapping this phrase at a colleague asking for help is tempting when you’re buried in work. However, it’s deeply unhelpful and very demoralizing. 

Emotionally intelligent people value teamwork and mentorship, and recognize that we all need assistance sometimes. 

They know that there were plenty of opportunities in the past where they needed help and were given other people’s time and patience, and aren’t about to skip past giving back on their own terms. That’s how karma works!

Even if you can’t offer a full solution, try “I’m not the best resource on this, but maybe [person’s name] could help. Would you like an introduction?”

9) “Whatever.”

This dismissive gem oozes apathy and can signify that you’ve checked out of the conversation.

It might be tempted to shut someone down and signal that you’re over a conversation, but trust me: Emotionally intelligent individuals stay engaged, even when disagreeing. They have too much respect for others to be so cutting and disdainful. 

So, if you’re ever at your wits end and tempted to slam in this phrase try something like “I’m not sure I fully agree, but I’m open to hearing more.” 

Any way you can communicate the fact that you’re not fully on board, but that you still respect the other person, is a big win.

Final thoughts

Remember, the workplace can be a breeding ground for frustration. 

While it’s impossible to completely avoid negative emotions, those with high EQ find ways to express themselves with professionalism and respect.  

By sidestepping these phrases, you can build stronger working relationships, foster collaboration, and maybe even create a slightly less frustrating workspace for everyone involved. 

Now, go tackle that next project – hopefully without encountering a single “that’s not my job” along the way!

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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