8 Things You Must Avoid Saying At Work


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8 Things You Must Avoid Saying At WorkWords are powerful. We often say something while meaning something else. We assume that the other person will ‘get’ what we really meant.

This, if at all works, will only work with people who know us closely. People who really care for us. These people can go beyond the mannerisms with which something was said and can take ‘things the right way’.

Till people get to know us, what we say matters and how we say it also matters. A lot.

The fact is that in organizations where you interact with many people, not everyone has the understanding and thoughtfulness to go beyond the spoken words and understand meaning of the message.

Darlene Price, author of ‘Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results’, concurs. “Words matter,” she says, “they are a key component of persuasive communication. Regardless of the audience, topic, or industry, or whether the setting is a stand-up presentation, sit-down conversation, telephone discussion, or an online meeting, a leader uses language to influence someone’s mind in order to achieve a certain result.”

Let us look at 8 things one must avoid saying at work

..and what can they be replaced with.

While there are more, these in my view, are some of the important ones to consider.

1. “I don’t have time”

Your CTO called you up asking to help with a presentation he needs to give to prospective customer. What would you say?

There are times where we genuinely are hard pressed for time. Especially if we are working on multiple projects, and worse, reporting to multiple bosses, it becomes hard to make time for additional requests.

The best rule of thumb is to think about “how can I get him what he is asking for” rather than “how can I say no”. Sure, you need to say No for certain things. But if a request is coming from superior, giving them what they want helps you in your own career.

So, how to avoid saying something similar to “I don’t have time”?

A better way is Delegation.

There may be few parts of our job that one or two of team members would love to do. Find out people who have a natural ability and tendency to do them, and train them. Make them understand that it is in their best interest to do these tasks occasionally so they prepare themselves for promotion.

Delegating some of our work and doing what superior has asked of us helps all the three people involved!

What if we don’t have the ability/skills to accomplish the work our superior needed?

One way to deal with this is to find who amongst our network is best suited to do this job. Approach them and convey the benefits of helping the CTO, in this case, if they don’t already understand it. Make the connection with your CTO and that person, and let them get on with the business. Although you haven’t provided the solution directly you will still come across as someone they can go-to for help.

And this is a good thing for your career.

2. “I don’t think it works”

Sure, we all have difference of opinion. While we not necessarily agree with what our colleague or manager is saying, “I don’t think it works” does not work.

Understand what the other person is saying, and look for points that you tend to agree with. Agree on them and present your thoughts, as an extension to these points. You may not like the idea of giving away the credit, but you will see that your idea gets implemented when the other person thinks it’s his.

Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

3. “It’s not my fault”

It is human tendency to think that the fault lies with the other person. That’s how we are built. The best thing to do is to avoid the subject of ‘finding fault’ altogether. Avoid being part of the conversation where the sole purpose of the conversation is to blame someone.

Instead, focus on the facts, and try to get to the source of the issue. Then try to formulate a solution, and a checklist/process change to ensure the issue does not repeat again.

4. “I don’t get paid to do THAT!”

This may make you look like someone not interested in your Company’s success. This also gives a direct indication of ‘market norms’ at work. Although work may be considered strictly professional, we tend to work in the realm of ‘social norms’ – where we help each other by not keeping scores.

You may need someone to cover you when you need to take a break to attend a family emergency.

Your boss has been asked to give a presentation on short notice and she needs your help.

Your team member made a genuine mistake and you decide to jump in and correct his mistake, although you don’t have to.

Work boils down to collaboration and cooperation that helps us as well as others around us succeed. At least some part of our work involves behaving as per the ‘social norms’.

And it is mutually beneficial.

If it is truly something you cannot do, stay calm, and turn down the work politely.

5. “Does it make sense?”

This is a double edged sword. This may seem that you think the other person doesn’t know any better. Or it may also seem like you are not confident about that you are saying.

Instead, as Neha Gandhi indicates in her post at Refinery29, it is better to use phrases like “What are your thoughts?”, or “What do you think about this?”.

This gives out a positive vibe and encourages the other person to share her thoughts freely, with a sense of contribution.

6. “Please do as I say”

This is an overbearing sentence to use with team members. Sure, the team may consists of junior members, who are less experienced and are prone to make mistakes. They might be even open to accept it when a superior says something like this. But “Please do as I say” kind of phrase does two damaging things –

a. It puts the other person down. They may or may not like this, and it tends to shut down their internal urge to think about a solution.

b. It trains the other person to depend on us, or on someone else. If they keep getting this kind of treatment pretty soon they will lose their ability or inclination to think actively or proactively about solving the problem.

It is better not to expect team members do only what is told. It makes the manager indispensable. And an indispensable employee might find it hard to get promoted.

7. “I told you so”

This is another way of strutting people’s ability or inclination to be problem-solvers. Allowing people to make mistakes increases their ability to take risks and make judgment calls that tend to be right.

8. “In my previous company”

This is quite a turn off for people to constantly hear how things were done in ‘the previous company’, or ‘in the last company’, or ‘at XYZ Corp’. What works for one place may not work for other. Even if it does, there is a better way of suggesting than ‘we did it like this in my previous company’.

The better approach may be to observe how things are done at the new place, and contrast it with how similar task was done at the ‘previous’ company, and objectively weigh the pros and cons. With this analysis, then suggest any changes for improvement and corresponding advantages.

Well, there you have – 8 things you must avoid saying at work. In essence, it is useful to avoid all negative sentences in our conversation. By avoiding negative phrases at work and substituting them with powerful positive ones, and acting in a mutually-beneficial way, one can come across as a leader.

What are some of the phrases you would advise avoiding at work?

Image courtesy: newmusicbox.org

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