Without a doubt, top leaders and managers use specific words to achieve success. At the same time, however, certain words and phrases should be avoided at all costs in today's workplace.
I'm the author of the recently published book Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, which is based on over 20 years of working closely with high-level corporate executives and leaders helping them present themselves and their messages more effectively.
Most presenters realize that you’ve got to know your audience and tailor your content to meet their needs. Being sincere, natural, enthusiastic and passionate go hand in hand with maintaining good eye contact and being calm and polite.
But it’s also crucial to recognize that certain words and phrases are bound to cause damage to your progress. If you want to maximize your success as you move along your career path, consider the following list…the top 10 phrases to stop using in the workplace.
1. “I can’t do that” or “That’s impossible” or “That can’t be done.”
Even though you may feel this way on the inside, others perceive these negative phrases as pessimistic, unconstructive and even stubborn. Colleagues and business partners most likely want to hear what can be done. Instead say, “I’ll be glad to check on that for you” or “What I can do is…” or “Because of company policy, what I can do is…”
2. “You should have…” or “You could have…” or "You ought to have..."
The words should, could and ought imply blame, finger-pointing and fault. There’s no quicker way to upset another party than to suggest they’re guilty of something (even if they are). Instead, take a collaborative approach. “Please help me understand why…” or “Next time may we adopt an alternative approach….” or “I understand your challenges; let’s resolve this together.”
3. “That’s not my job” or “I don’t get paid enough for this” or “That’s not my problem.”
If you’re asked to do something by another party, it’s because it’s important to them. Therefore, as a team player, goal #1 is to figure out how to help them get it accomplished. Even if it’s not in your job description, by saying so displays a career-limiting bad attitude. For example, when someone lays an unreasonable request on you, reply by saying, “I’ll be glad to help you accomplish that. Given my current tasks of A…B…and C…which one of these would you like to place on back-burner while I work on this new assignment?” This clearly communicates priority; reminds the other party of your current workload; and subtly implies realistic expectations.
4. “I may be wrong, but…” or “This may be a dumb question, but…” or “I’m not sure about this, but…” or “This may be a silly idea, but…”
Eliminate any prefacing phrase that demeans or negates what you’re about the say. Instead, get rid of the self-deprecating phrase, drop the "but" and make your comment.
5. “I’ll try.”
Imagine a colleague says to you, “I need your report by 10 a.m. tomorrow for the group meeting.” Your reply is, “Okay. I’ll try to get it finished.” The word “try” implies the possibility it may not get finished. It presupposes possible failure. Instead say, “I’ll get it finished” or “I’ll have it on your desk by 9 a.m.”
6. “I think…”
Which of these two statements do you find to be more effective? “I think you might like this new solution we offer” vs. “I believe (or I’m confident) you’re going to like this new solution we offer.” The difference in wording is fairly subtle. However, the influence communicated to the other party can be profound. Reread each sentence. The first one contains two weak words, “think” and “might.” These words make you sound unsure or insecure about the message, and subtly undermine your credibility. Notice how the second sentence is confident and strong. Replace the word “think” with “believe” and strike the tentative “might.” That’s a statement from someone who believes in what he or she saying.
7. “…don’t you think?” Or, “…isn’t it?” Or “…okay?”
To convey a confident, commanding presence, eliminate validation questions. Make your statement or recommendation with certainty and avoid tacking on the unnecessary approval-seeking question. Don’t say, “This would be a good investment, don’t you think?” Instead say, “This solution will be a wise investment that provides long-term benefits.” Don’t say, “I think we should proceed using this proposed strategy, okay?” Instead, make a declaration: “We’ll proceed using this proposed strategy.”
8. “I don’t have time for this right now” or “I don’t have time to talk to you right now.”
Aside from being abrupt and rude, this phrase tells the person they’re less important to you than something or someone else. Instead say, “I’d be glad to discuss this with you. I’m meeting a deadline at the moment. May I stop by your office (or phone you) this afternoon at 3:00?
Simply replace the word “but” with “and.” The word “but” cancels and negates anything that comes before it. Imagine if a software salesperson said, “Yes, our implementation process is fast, easy, and affordable….but we can’t install it until June. The “but” creates a negative that didn’t exist before, offsetting the benefits of fast, easy and affordable. Replace the “but” with “and” and hear the difference: “Yes, our implementation process is fast, easy and affordable, and we can install it as early as June.” Most of the time, “and” may be easily substituted for “but,” with positive results.
10. “He’s a jerk” or “She’s lazy” or “They’re stupid” or “I hate my job” or “This is a terrible place to work.”
Avoid making unconstructive or judgmental statements that convey a negative attitude toward people or your job. This mishap tanks a career quickly. If a genuine complaint or issue needs to be brought to someone’s attention, do so with tact, consideration and non-judgment. For example, when discussing a staff member's tardiness with your office manager, don’t say “She’s lazy.” Instead say, “I’ve noticed Susan has been an hour late for work every morning this month.” This comment states an observable fact and avoids disparaging language.
Darlene Price is president and founder of Well Said, Inc., a training and consulting firm specializing in high-impact presentations and effective communication. As a 20-year veteran of the speech communication training field, she has personally coached over 5,000 business professionals on the art of effective presentations and interpersonal communication. She has presented to audiences across six continents and coached the chief officers and senior leaders in more than half of the Fortune 100 companies. In addition, her work as a corporate spokesperson has earned her 17 industry honors including one Emmy Award and nine Telly Awards.