There are some things you simply never want to say at work.
These phrases carry special power: they have an uncanny ability to make you look bad even when the words are true.
Worst of all, there’s no taking them back once they slip out.
I’m not talking about shocking slips of the tongue, off-colour jokes, or politically incorrect faux pas. These aren’t the only ways to make yourself look bad.
Often it’s the subtle remarks—the ones that paint us as incompetent and unconfident—that do the most damage.
No matter how talented you are or what you’ve accomplished, there are certain phrases that instantly change the way people see you and can forever cast you in a negative light. These phrases are so loaded with negative implications that they undermine careers in short order.
How many of these career killers have you heard around the office lately?
1. “It’s not fair”
Everyone knows that life isn’t fair. Saying it’s not fair suggests that you think life is supposed to be fair, which makes you look immature and naïve.
If you don’t want to make yourself look bad, you need to stick to the facts, stay constructive, and leave your interpretation out of it. For instance, you could say, “I noticed that you assigned Ann that big project I was hoping for. Would you mind telling me what went into that decision? I’d like to know why you thought I wasn’t a good fit, so that I can work on improving those skills.”
2. “This is the way it’s always been done”
Technology-fuelled change is happening so fast that even a six-month-old process could be outdated. Saying this is the way it’s always been done not only makes you sound lazy and resistant to change, but it could make your boss wonder why you haven’t tried to improve things on your own. If you really are doing things the way they’ve always been done, there’s almost certainly a better way.
3. “No problem”
When someone asks you to do something or thanks you for doing something, and you tell them no problem, you’re implying that their request should have been a problem. This makes people feel as though they’ve imposed upon you.
What you want to do instead is to show people that you’re happy to do your job. Say something like “It was my pleasure” or “I’ll be happy to take care of that.” It’s a subtle difference in language, but one that has a huge impact on people.
4. “I think …/This may be a silly idea …/I’m going to ask a stupid question”
These overly passive phrases instantly erode your credibility. Even if you follow these phrases with a great idea, they suggest that you lack confidence, which makes the people you’re speaking to lose confidence in you.