I was facilitating a meeting of supervisors last week when one supervisor shared that an employee actually said, “Is that in my job description?” when she was assigned a new task to complete.
This situation got me thinking about the things people say at work that can have a lasting, negative impression on those around them, and in some cases, be total career busters. Although most of you reading this are probably too smart to utter the phrases below, you might have a friend or colleague who could benefit from this list of things you should NEVER say at work.
1. “That’s not in my job description,” or, “Is that in my job description?”
Beyond the obvious fact that pretty much everyone’s job description includes the catch-all-phrase, “. . . and all other duties as assigned,” pointing out that something isn’t in your job description or asking about it makes you look uncooperative, lazy, and overall like you’re the kind of person who is only willing to do the bare minimum to get your paycheck.
2. “It’s not fair”
As my mother always said, “Life’s not fair.” It was her way of stopping a complaint in its tracks. When you lament about things being unfair, you’re basically just whining. If you think something is unfair, do something about it, don’t just walk around complaining.
3. “That won’t work”
Says who? Where’s your evidence? People whose knee-jerk reaction is to say things won’t work shut down creativity and make them look like a Negative Nelly. If you have concerns about someone’s idea, say that instead, or even better, ask questions about the idea to learn how the person plans to make it work.
4. “Well at my last job . . .”
Handled correctly, sharing successful ways of doing things you’ve learned in past positions is a great idea. However, bringing up the way things were done at your last job as a way to criticize how things are done at your current job, can appear critical and condescending. “This is such an outdated way of doing things. At my last job . . .” When I hear that too much, I want to tell you to just go back to your last job.
5. “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
Shutting suggestions down and not being open to new ideas offered tactfully and critically, is just as inappropriate as #4 above. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, even if it works, doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a better way of doing things. At least hear the other person out. If his or her plan is sound, give the new method a trial period to test it. Remember, getting around by horse and buggy was the way things were always done before the car was invented, but I bet you don’t have a pony in your garage.
6. “This will only take a minute” or “Can you hold for a minute?”
Rarely does anything we do take only a minute. If you come to my office to discuss a problem, are you really going to say everything you need to say in 60 seconds or less? The same goes for putting callers on hold for “just a minute.” The last time someone asked me to hold for a minute I was hanging on the line for seven minutes, before I finally hung up. A better option would be to say, “I have a problem I want to discuss, do you have about 10 minutes for me?” Or for the caller, “It’s going to take 3-4 minutes for me to look up that information. Would you like to hold, or would you prefer I call you back once I’ve found it?”
7. “I’ll try”
What exactly does “I’ll try” mean? Does it mean you THINK you can do it, or you know you can’t but don’t want to say no to my request? “I’ll try” just leaves me hanging. Either make a commitment, or be more specific. Say, “I’m not sure I can get this done by Tuesday. Let me get started on it this afternoon and then I can give you a better idea if I can have it to you by Tuesday, or if I’ll need more time.” If you already know you can’t get something done by the requested date, negotiate an alternate deadline or just tell the person you can’t do it.
Although these aren’t the only things you should avoid saying at work, eliminating these phrases from your workplace vocabulary will go a long way toward making you look like a confident, competent, team player.
To learn more critical communication skills, check out my book, Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.