Sometimes a thing you say has two meanings: the one you intend, and the one others hear. There are a handful of phrases that savvy businesspeople never use because they can poison the way others see them. Dr. Travis Bradberry came up with a list of 10 self-sabotaging bad phrases at work for LinkedIn.
01. “This is the way it’s always been done”
This is the perfect thing to say if you want to come off as someone who lacks interest or the energy to always be on the lookout for better ways of doing business and for new opportunities for the company. It’s the kind of thing someone who’s resistant to change would say. A person who says this hits a sour note in every enthusiastic soul nearby.
02. “It’s not my fault”
Maybe it isn’t. Still. If you’ve been accused, and if you had anything to do with what went wrong, take responsibility. Nobody’s telling you to fall on your sword for someone else, but blaming someone else can erode people’s trust in you. If the problem really had nothing to do with you, try to provide a dispassionate, objective account of what happened to keep it from occurring again, without pointing fingers.
03. “I can’t”
Or do you mean, “I won’t?” Of course not, but that’s what it may sound like. People want to know you’re someone who’s willing to go the extra mile to get things done, not someone who’ll bail out when the going gets tough. If you’re being asked to do something you don’t know how to do, say “sure,” and confidently request the assistance you’ll need to succeed at the task. If you’re asked to come in at some time that’s impossible for you, offer an alternative arrangement.
04. “It’s not fair”
The response to saying this should be, “And…?” Every grownup knows that life isn’t always fair, and unless you want to sound immature, or worse, just plain silly, don’t go there. If you think you’ve been treated unfairly — maybe overlooked for a promotion you feel you should’ve gotten — come up with a positive way of asking why to show that you’ve got the company’s best interests at heart and want to know how to serve it even more effectively.
05. “That’s not in my job description”
This makes its speaker sound bad in a few ways. First off, it sounds like somebody who doesn’t want to do one thing more than is absolutely required. Second, it makes you seem like you’re indifferent to the company’s needs since you’d rather let something go undone than step in and help. Just do what’s being asked, and if you think it’s going to become a regular thing, maybe you and your manager should redefine your job description to more accurately reflect reality and to put you in an even better position to step up as needed.
06. “This may be a silly idea . . . / I’m going to ask a stupid question”
Of course, you may wonder if what you’re about to ask/say is already obvious to everyone else, but you’re better off just sucking it up and saying what you have to say without a preemptive apology. You don’t want to sound like someone who is so lacking in confidence they’re likely not worth hearing out. If you’re really unsure of what you’re about to say, of course, you always have the option of not speaking up.
07. “I’ll try”
Well, it’s a little better than “I can’t,” but not much. If you’re given a task, own it. If you believe you can do it, just say “yes”; if not, helpfully provide an equally good alternative way of getting it done.
08. “This will only take a minute”
If you don’t literally mean “under 60 seconds,” don’t use this phrase. It has a few problems. First, it makes you sound like you’re rushing through something just to get it done, and not necessarily done well. Second, if it takes a little longer than expected, you make yourself look either incompetent or dishonest — you’ve overpromised, and probably for no good reason. Just say you’ll be a little while and leave it at that. Of course, you don’t want to keep anyone waiting, but doing good work always takes some time.
09. “I hate this job”
We all have issues with our work from time to time — and maybe you really do hate your job — but saying this just makes you unpleasant to be around. People would rather get through a day without feeling bad about it, and this kind of comment is just no help. Your manager’s also not likely to appreciate its negative effect on everyone within earshot.
10. “They’re lazy/incompetent/a jerk”
Talking down someone else is such a risky thing to do. If that person’s issues are well-known, there’s no point in piling on, even if it gives you something to say to other like-minded people. There’s no benefit to you, really. Trying to build yourself up by tearing someone else down is childish and makes you seem insecure at best. It may also make others trust you less since they’ve just seen you talking trash about someone. And if everyone else likes that person, well — whoops — guess who’s the jerk now?
Sometimes all it takes to stop sabotaging yourself with ill-considered comments is to get into the habit of giving yourself just a beat, a short pause, before speaking. It’s amazing what that second or so can do for your career.