When it comes to career progression and the associated earning power, certain words and sentences should never come out of your mouth.
If they do, they’ll most likely stunt your progression and your earnings, or even cost you your job. What you say, and how you say it, matter.
Who am I to speak on the subject, you might wonder. I’ve managed small and large teams for over 15 years. I’ve definitely heard a lot during that time. Most importantly, I’ve also made some of the mistakes I’m writing about.
Without further ado, here are 14 things you should never say at work…and what to say instead.
On a side note, for non native English speakers, these sentences are grammatically correct. It still doesn’t mean you should say them!
Equivalent: “Not happening”
Never, ever utter the word “no” and leave it at that. “No” is both negative and final. It’s also ineffective. Explaining your reasoning will give you a much better chance of having your “no” be well-received and agreed upon. Most importantly, propose an alternate solution. Remain rational and respectful, when politely refusing to do something.
2. I don’t know
No one expects you to have all the answers. But saying “I don’t know” makes you come across as unwilling to help. You may as well say that you don’t care. Instead, say something like ” I’m not sure, but let me find out” or ” let me ask my co-workers; they may know about this better than I do”.
3. It’s not my job
Equivalent: “it’s not in my job description”, “it’s above my pay grade”, “I’m too good for this”
It’s happened to everyone. The boss asks you to do something that is either beneath your position or simply not related at all to what you do. But, when you pull the “It’s not my job” card, you’re calling yourself out as not a team player. Job descriptions are also never set in stone.
Say this instead: “Sure. I’m not sure I’ve done that before, but I’ll take care of that for you.”
If you keep being asked to do tasks that are not in your job description, then ask for a meeting with your manager to review and clarify your role.
4. I can’t stand him/her
Equivalent: ” I don’t want to work with him/her”, ” I hate him/her“
It can be really easy to think that your co-workers or HR are on your side, but you never know when you’ve let your negative feelings slip to the wrong person. You’d be amazed at how fast this type of thing gets around an office. Say this instead: “You seem to get along great with X. What’s your secret?”
5. I’m busy
Equivalent: “I don’t have time for this”
Being busy does not differentiate you. Everyone is busy – that’s how business works. Hanging your hat on the busy shingle has more negative connotations than positive ones. What the other person really hears is, “what I’m working on is more important than you and your request.”
Now, imagine saying this to your boss…
If you don’t have time to do something, offer an alternate deadline or re-direct the person -boss included- to someone who can help.
6. It’s impossible
Equivalent: “It can’t be done”, “I can’t do it”, “this is ridiculous”, “this is so stupid”
Nobody likes a negative and pessimistic attitude. If you’re asked to do something, it’s because your manager believes it’s possible and they believe you can do it. If you have concerns about actually getting it done, respond instead with, “Let me look into our options and resources, and I’ll get back to you. “
7. I’ll try
When people hear this, they immediately loose confidence in your abilities. If you think you’re unable to do the task within the timeline, say so and present a more realistic option.
8. It’s not my fault
Equivalent: ” I thought you were handling this”, “You told me to do this”, “I just did what I was told to do”, “I just assumed“
Don’t engage in finger-pointing, even if it’s actually not your fault. Focus on finding solutions instead. And if it is your fault, own-up to it, no matter how difficult it is to do so.
9. I’m bored
Equivalent: “I need a challenge”
Newsflash: it’s actually not your employer’s responsibility to provide you with excitement and challenges…it’s yours. Saying this out loud can also create tension and resentment from your colleagues and boss. If you have nothing to do, ask for more work.
10. We’ve always done it this way
Equivalent: “We’ve never done this before”
That may be true—but it’s almost never a convincing argument. If the way things have been done make sense and the changes you are being asked to do would create unnecessary problems, then frame your argument in those terms.
11. Have you heard about…?
Office gossip has been a workplace mainstay since offices were invented. But while it can be tempting to badmouth a coworker or commiserate about a boss behind their back, over the long run, it’s only going to hurt your own reputation and opportunities.
12. I need a raise
“Need” is a conditional statement, an expectation that implies someone’s worth is dependent on you getting what you want. Here are a few tips to ask for a raise.
13. Too much personal information
This comes in the form of: ” I got so wasted last night; it’s amazing I’m here today.” or “I scored a hot date last week-end; the sex was great”. You get the gist. Your employer and colleagues don’t need to know this…nor does the Universe.
14. I’ll leave
Equivalent: “I’m done”, “I quit”
Saying this makes you come across as immature and petulant. Your employer may also decide to take your word for it and see you as a flight risk. Not exactly the best way to be promoted.
And if you actually want to leave your job, keep it to yourself, until you resign in a professional manner.