How to be Professional: 30 things you should never say at Work

Have you ever thought about the words you speak? Did you realise it can make or break your career?

The power of communication is immense, therefore, if you want to be perceived as an ideal employee or a leader, it is important to be careful about what you speak.

So today, I’ll be sharing with you 30 phrases you must avoid while communicating with your peers so you don’t end up hurting your professional relationships.

(If you want to skip reading and watch the video instead, this is where you need to go 👇🏻)

Let’s get started

1.“I think”

When you begin your sentence with ‘I think’ it can make you sound unsure or insecure about the idea you’re presenting. To convey a command of content and passion for your subject, substitute the word ‘think’ with ‘believe’ — it makes a world of difference.

You could start the sentence by saying: “I believe we could do this instead of this

2.“It’s not my job”

This is a big no-no. If you’re not willing to do the work, you can always say “no” politely and offer to help find someone who is willing to do it. But, if you have a considerable amount of free time, then you could actually think of it as an opportunity to get outside your comfort zone and expand your knowledge.

But if you are tempted to say “It’s not my job” then try to replace the phrase with this instead. You could say Well, I’m not sure I’ve done that before, but I’ll take care of that for you. OR. I’m not really familiar with that. However, I’ve heard Jennifer is quite experienced in it. Let me check with her.

These are a few polite phrases you can say instead of abruptly saying “it’s not my job”.

3.“We’ve always done it this way”

While you may be right during the conversation, your boss and colleagues will regard you as someone who is resistant to change. And that is not what you need in this competitive work environment. However, instead of saying “we’ve always done it this way”, you can ask how the ‘new way’ will benefit the company. You can rephrase the sentence in this way by saying “What are the benefits of trying this new method?”

4.“I may be wrong, but…/ This may be a silly idea, but…”

Often we say this phrase as we fear our co-workers might judge our views. But remember, your insecurities send across a different message — they diminish the impact of what you’re saying and reduce your credibility.

Instead say this: I recommend doing this/ I recommend doing that

5.“It’s not fair”

Saying this in your workplace will make you sound immature. If you are given more work than your colleagues and there is a clear imbalance in work distribution, steer clear from grumbling to your coworkers and set up a face-to-face meeting with your boss. The same applies when someone else got a raise you deserved. Speak to your manager in a tactful manner. Never point fingers.

6.“No problem”

This is something we’ve all been guilty of — when someone thanks us, in order to sound modest, we say “No problem”. In reality, it negates the person’s appreciation and implies the situation could have been a problem under other circumstances.

So Instead you could say: You’re welcome.

7.“I’ll try”

Saying this will keep your colleague on the wall — between a yes and a no. This phrase implies the possibilities of failure as you sound unwilling to commit to the task. Frankly, no boss or colleagues will want to hear that.

Instead you could say this: “I may need to get some help to meet that deadline, but I’ll get this covered.” This phrase sounds much better and honest than saying “I’ll try”, and it also says that you’ll get it done.

8.“He’s dumb” / “She’s lazy”

Nothing tanks a career faster than name-calling. Avoid making rude statements as it will put you in a bad light. If you have genuine complaints against someone, communicate the issue with thoughtful consideration and neutrality. Never jump the gun.

9.“That’s impossible to do”

This mistake conveys a negative attitude — this is seldom valued in the workplace. Employers notice, recognize and promote a can-do attitude.

So Instead you could say: Let’s discuss the possibilities.

10.“You should have..”

Phrases like “You should have told me earlier” are fault-finding words. Ideally a workplace should take a more productive non-judgmental approach to foster collaboration and teamwork.

Instead say this: “In the future, ensure proper planning”, or “please bring this to my attention”.

11.“This will only take a second/minute.”

First of all, we know that’s not true. It clearly conveys that your work is more important than what the person is currently working on. Be considerate when disrupting another person’s workflow.

Instead say this: “Let me know when you have a few minutes to chat. I want to show you something.”

12.“I can’t stand my boss”

It might be true — but it’s better to keep these thoughts to yourself. The moment it slips from your tongue, you will be amazed how fast these things get around an office.

13.“Don’t you think so?”

Saying this shows you are seeking validation through the use of overly cautious works and putting the ball in others’ court. If you want to communicate confidently and persuade others, use statements with certainty.

14.“I’m too busy.”

Well, you might be, but no one wants to feel their work is not important to you. Always foster positive relations and convey empathy in your workplace.

Instead say this: I’d be happy to discuss this with you after I’ve finished up an urgent task. May I stop by your office around 1 PM?”

15.“You guys.”

Though your workplace is your second home, avoid using it in a business environment as it lowers your professionalism.

Instead, you could just say: “You” or, “your team.”

16.“You look tired today. Are you okay?”

You might say this out of your concern for the other person, but what the other person hears is a judgment.

Instead say this: “I’m heading to the break room for refreshment. Want to come along?”

17.“You’re all dressed up today! Have a job interview somewhere?”

This is rude! Maybe your co-worker was in a mood to dress up or maybe they did have an interview. But it’s not up to you to enquire about it.

Instead say this: “I like what you’re wearing.”

18.“How old are you?”

People ask this phrase as a way of getting to know each other. However, not everyone appreciates revealing their age. So steer away from this.

19.“Are you pregnant?”

This should be avoided in your workplace and outside it. Just never ask this question. What if your colleague just ate well last night? Or even if they’re pregnant, it is for them to tell you when and if they choose to.

20.“No one told me.”

This clearly shows you’re not a hard worker or that you’re not trying to do your job. It’s important to take initiative and ask for help if you need it.

21.“I’m too good for this job.”

This is a classic mistake. It is a sign you disrespect colleagues who are doing their best to do their jobs well and are just as important as you are.

22.“You’re wrong.”

You might disagree with someone, but instead of being on the face, take a diplomatic approach. You may be right, but it won’t help your case to say, “You’re wrong.”

Instead say this: “I may have an idea that will help.”

23.“I thought you were doing that.”

This statement conveys confusion, that you don’t know what’s happening with your team. Also conveys that you’ll back away from taking responsibility.

24.“I’m not good at this.”

Let’s face it — we’re all not good at everything. But there is a thin line between being bad at something and being unwilling to learn. Give it your best shop and also ask for help if you need to. Don’t give up easily.

25.“I don’t know.”

It’s ok to be honest about your shortcomings, but the mistake is when you stop with just that. It puts off your manager and colleagues.

Instead say this: I don’t know, but I can find it out for you.”

26.“Don’t take everything so seriously.” / “It’s just a joke.”

People use this statement after they’ve offended a person — avoid it. Find respect in the workplace by not disrespecting others. It’s that simple.

27.“Sorry.”

If you did something worthy of an apology; just fix it. If you keep saying “sorry” every time you make a mistake — stop. It will make you look weak and under-confident.

Instead say this: “I understand this was wrong and it won’t happen again.”

28.“How much do you get paid?”

29.“Why don’t you do this?”

This is called “poking your nose in others’ business. Unless you are the manager, avoid this phrase as everyone knows their work, duties, and responsibilities very well just like you.

30.“My time is up. I’m not waiting any longer.”

Which job these days is strictly 9–5? Waiting a little longer for something very urgent won’t affect your “personal space”. Saying this again proves that you are not a team player, you do not take your work seriously and you aren’t flexible.

Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well. Here’s a quote by Napoleon Hill, an American self-help writer, that I love the most. “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” Seems like good advice. And with the help of this video, you too can speak effectively at your workplace and earn the trust and respect of your peers.

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Sanjana Murali

Product Marketing Manager @ Leadfeeder | YouTuber — https://bit.ly/3tMx2p6 | Eternal writer — content is my love ❤