Work Relationships

14 Things You Should Never Say at Work

Written by Peter Jones

No matter how smart you are—or think you are—or how well you’re doing in your career, it’s always possible to make sure you’re not doing anything to sabotage yourself. There are a ton of little things you can do to fine-tune your conversation skills—eliminating corporate clichés, getting rid of less-than-confident-sounding filler, and limiting your use of negative words.

Here are a few words and phrases to weed out of your conversation in the office, for your own success.

1. “Just”

“I just wanted to… ” “I was just… ” “I just thought…” These are all basically code for “I’m sorry to bother you.” You’re not bothering anyone; you’re contributing. You’re doing your job. You’re probably delivering something necessary to a coworker. Start to notice how often you throw “just” as if trying to ask permission. Be less meek!

2. “Unfair”

Nothing is fair. Even if you’re stating the obvious truth, stay quiet. You’ll only sound negative and immature. Stay constructive and keep your head above the fray.

3. “Sorry”

Especially “sorry, but…” Don’t apologize for asking for things, for taking up space, or for having ideas. Especially when you’re not actually sorry.

4. “This is how it’s always been done.”

Congratulations, you sound lazy and resistant to change. Like an old dog that can’t learn new and innovative tricks. Keep an open mind to new ways of doing things and better ideas.

5. “I’m no expert, but… ”

Women so often preface everything they say with this kind of qualifying phrase. You want to avoid sounding pushy or arrogant, but it’s just silly. Own your ideas. Just don’t be pushy or arrogant, and you’ll be fine.

6. “This is a stupid question/silly idea…”

You’re immediately setting yourself up to look like you don’t belong at the big kids’ table. There are no stupid questions, not really. And sometimes silly ideas are the ones that turn a company around. Think before you speak, but don’t qualify what you say as trivial before you’ve even said it.

7. “I’ll try.”

Yoda perhaps said it best. “Do or do not. There is no try.”

8. “It’s not my fault.”

Even if this is true, you sound like you can’t take responsibility for anything. Roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty trying to come up with a solution, rather than shirking blame.

9. “I can’t.”

If you were your boss, what would you think hearing that? That you’re unwilling to give it your best effort?

10. “I hate this job.”

I mean, really. You should know not to let this one slip already. Even in jest.

11. “Like”

Try to avoid talking like a valley girl (or like Shoshanna on HBO’s Girls). Try to keep stupid filler words out of your sentences and avoid the supremely annoying speech tic that is “vocal fry.” If you’re an up talker? That’s always raising your pitch? At the end of every sentence? Try training yourself to read aloud lowering your arm every time you reach a period.

12. 🙂   <3

You don’t need to use emoji to express cheerfulness or camaraderie at work. That’s for your friends. Keep the cutesy and the capslock and the exclamation points for your iMessages and leave your work words unadorned.

13. “Does that make sense?”

It probably did before you asked. Don’t second guess yourself mid-explanation. That will only lead your coworkers to second guess you too.

14. “You look tired.”

Never tell anyone this, no matter how true it is. They’ll just feel awful about themselves. And you’ll look like a jerk.

About the author

Peter Jones