Work Relationships

30 Unprofessional Things You Should Never Say at Work

Written by Peter Jones

Being “professional” can feel a bit new at first. It takes some getting used to. Just like any other social arena, the working world has its own special set of rules. One of the cardinal ones is to speak and conduct oneself like a grown up. Here are 30 words and phrases you should never say at work.

1. <Insert potty mouth phrase here>

I could list all the words here that you shouldn’t use, but that list would be too long. Bottom line: if it’s a curse word, keep it for home use.

2. “We’ve always done it like…”

If someone asks you to do something you aren’t accustomed to, or to do it in a different way, this is the last thing you should say. Save the constructive feedback for the review.

3. “I’m not afraid to ….”

A healthy degree of fear is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s best to have some fear and master it than to have had none at all.

4. “Yes” (when you don’t mean it)

It’s always better to say no than to dismiss someone with a ‘yes’ and then disrespect them by not delivering.

5. “It’s important.”

Convey the importance of a task or strategy in other ways. If you have to be obvious, you’ve already lost.

6. “Are you upset?”

This is almost as bad as “are you mad at me?” If you have to ask; you probably already know the answer.

7. “Like”

You’re not in middle school anymore. People will judge you for using “like” as sentence filler.

8. “Literally”

Same deal. Adverbs are best avoided anyway. And besides, this one is seriously overused.

9. “I thought you were doing that.”

Conveys confusion, that you don’t know what’s happening with your team. Also conveys that you’ll shirk any responsibility you can.

10. “That’s impossible.”

Might as well admit to being a quitter. Don’t shut down and limit your coworkers (or yourself) from coming up with creative solutions.

11. “You misunderstood.”

Don’t put the blame immediately on the other person. Try to find a better way to explain your original intent or meaning that doesn’t shirk responsibility for communication.

12. “Sorry I was late”

Just don’t be late. Respect your time and others’ time. Period. If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t have been late.

13. “Because I’m in charge”

You’ll just be resented for being heavy-footed. Convince people to follow your lead by example and by earning their regard.

14. “Sorry”

If you did something worthy of an apology; just fix it. Sorry isn’t enough. And if you’re just apologizing willy-nilly for anything and everything—stop. It makes you look weak an under-confident.

15. “I’m bored.”

You’re not bored. You’re boring. Show a little initiative and find something to do.

16. “I’m busy.”

Even if you’re too swamped to listen or to help out, find a better way to communicate this without sounding so self-centered.

17. “Well I….”

Don’t one-up people. They hate it. A conversation isn’t just an opportunity to tell everyone how much better your stories are than theirs. Try listening for once. You’ll get your turn to shine.

18. “That wasn’t my fault.”

Even if it wasn’t. You look like a sell-out. Concentrate on how to fix the problem, not whose fault it is.

19. “I can’t do all of this by myself.”

Sure you can! And if you can’t, be sure it’s for the right reasons—not just that you’re feeling lazy. Asking for help in the right circumstances is always okay.

20. Gossip

That’s something that you need to leave in school. Professionals focus on work and more constructive social interactions.

21. “Details, details.”

This comment is flip and makes you look lazy and inattentive. Details are crucial.

22. “I was just doing what I was told.”

This is just trying to blame your superiors instead of your co-workers and it will almost never end well.

23. “I have a brilliant plan.”

Plans are one thing; execution is another. Execute your plan, then call it brilliant.

24. “I’ll do that later.”

Sorry. True professionals don’t procrastinate. Clear your to-do list as early and as often as you can.

25. “I know better.”

Even if you do, there is no reason to condescend. You’ll look like a jerk and an unprofessional one at that.

26. <Mumble, mumble>

Speak at an appropriate volume and enunciate your words. If no one can understand you, you’ll never get anywhere.

27. “Wow that chick/dude is …”

This is an office, not a club. Keep your outside-work observations to yourself.

28. “That’s not going to happen.”

There are ways to refuse or give a ‘no’ without being a condescending blowhard. And without getting people to root against you.

29. “I quit” (or “I’m done”)

Spare us the drama. Prove that you can keep it cool—even when actually quitting.

30. <Silence>

Even if you’re shy, you must speak up now and then. Otherwise people will forget you exist or they’ll make up a story to fill in the blanks. You’re much better off being open and up front.

30 Phrases Unprofessional People Can’t Stop Saying At Work

About the author

Peter Jones