Business Advice

Seven phrases you should never use at work

Martin Kovacs /

Professionalism in the workplace comes in many guises, but employees of all levels would do well to pay attention to their vocabulary when dealing with their peers.

What you do and don’t say in the workplace can reveal a lot about your approach to employment, and it may well pay to weigh up your words.

Writing at Inc., Lolly Daskal, president and chief executive of Lead From Within, outlines a number of phrases that should be avoided at all costs.

“If you ever catch yourself saying any of these things, put a stop to it at once,” Daskal writes.

“It’s not my fault”

Trying to shirk the blame will likely not be productive, regardless of whether it is your fault or not.

In most cases, taking a proactive, problem-solving approach will likely be the better course of action.

“Take ownership and accountability for the things you do, and when something goes wrong, keep the focus on solving the problem and preventing a recurrence rather than blame,” Daskal writes.

“To make a mistake is part of learning, but to make excuses and to blame others is a career killer.”

“I can’t”

If not, what can you do? Passing up on new tasks will also see you pass on the benefits of learning by taking on additional responsibilities.

“When you say you can’t do something, you demonstrate a lack of confidence and unwillingness to take risks,” Daskal notes.

“I’m not willing to”

It may be that you are not up to the challenge, would rather shirk the responsibility, or are simply disinterested.

As Daskal notes, by using this phrase you are effectively “saying that your priorities are more important than the team’s or the organisation’s”.

“What’s in it for me?”

This shows where your priorities lie. Are you focused on the greater good on more focused on personal gain, Daskal asks.

She notes that employees who fall into this category will be perceived as self-serving, with most organisations having “little tolerance or patience for those who refuse to be part of a team”.

“I can’t work with him/her”

This sort of statement points to a penchant to taking the easy way out when faced with conflict.

“Choosing whom you will and won’t work with makes you sound not only unprofessional but also immature,” Daskal writes. “Learn to deal with conflict, and set differences aside when you need to.”

Of course, she notes, if you have legitimate reasons for not wanting to work with someone, you should go through the proper channels when raising these concerns.

“I’m bored”

This statement can have a destabilising impact on a workplace.

“What are the people around you to think when you voice the fact that you find your work tiresome or tedious, insufficient to hold your attention?” Daskal writes.

“Your job is to find enthusiasm – or at least cheerful willingness – for everything you do. If you need more of a challenge, find a new activity to take on.”

“I’ll try”

The commitment doesn’t exactly shine through with this statement.

Daskal points to the distinction between “trying” and “doing”.

“You can try without being successful, or for that matter without really putting up much effort,” she writes.

“If you try with determination and perseverance, you’re going to get there – so say so! Instead of ‘I’ll try’, confidently say, ‘I’ll take care of it.’”

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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