What Not to Say At Work: 5 Phrases You Should Totally Avoid

By Fred Wilson

May 29, 2018   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

what not to say at work

You can never overemphasize the importance of effective communication. In both your personal and professional life, communication skills can either walk you up the ladder to success or drive you down into the abyss.

You have to communicate on a daily basis to stay in sync with your co-workers and be on the same page with your boss. Knowing what not to say at work is crucial, particularly when it comes to talking with your boss.

What you practice and how you talk on a daily basis builds your personality and your reputation at your workplace. You don’t want to sound too informal and yet you want to be approachable. You don’t want to seem to act over-efficient but you want to come across as an out-of-the-box thinker.

So, how do you go about it?

The list of the right things to say can be never-ending. The key is to understand what not to say at work and here are some of them:

“I don’t know.”

what not to say to your boss

It’s good to be honest. However, giving up on a task right away because you feel you lack the knowledge may come off as an easy escape. For this reason, even when you are not aware of something, you need to show your willingness to learn and complete the task.

This is especially true today when you can use technology anytime and anywhere for educational purposes. Settling in with an “I don’t know” doesn’t exactly put you on the “most promising employee” list. Instead of saying you don’t know how to continue with a task or have no ideas to give, try saying “Let me explore this,” or “I’ll try to find out.”

“I can’t.”

Just like you shouldn’t let lack of knowledge become an obstacle, you should not think you cannot do something without trying it out at first. If your boss asks you to do something, it means he or she has faith in you and feels you have the ability to do it.

Take on the task, experiment with it, and see how it goes. Grab the opportunity and let practice take care of the rest. Instead of saying “I can’t”, try saying “I’ll give it a shot!”

“That’s not my area.”

If your boss delegates a task that you think goes beyond your scope of work, don’t immediately give up on it. Take this as an opportunity to explore new angles to work unless you’re swamped with work already. In that case, try to arrange for more time to complete the task.

This approach will prove you to be a professional who isn’t afraid of exploring new tides. It also builds trust and dependability.

Therefore, try saying this instead: “I would love to grow in this area. Any tips on how I can go about it?”

“At my last job, we did it this way.”

what not say with your boss

It’s understandable to become accustomed to a certain way of working, especially if you spend a number of years at an organization.

Everyone likes to find safe and effective ways to get work done and more often than not, these ways are adopted as best practices.

However, different tasks and organizations call for different work processes. If your boss introduces a certain process that you think is different from what you did before, give it a shot before informing your boss that earlier practices were better.

Instead, say this: “Sure, I can try to do it this way.” This will serve as a hint to your boss that you are experienced in the task and that you are willing to try new ways.

“I can’t work with him/her.”

This is the professional world and you cannot just dismiss working with someone because you feel you won’t get along.

If your boss asks you to be a part of a certain team, chances are he or she has already weighed out the pros and cons in terms of employee skill set and project requirements. When you object to be a part of a team due to personal or professional bias, it may depict you as intolerant and uncooperative.

Instead, say: “We can try to figure out a plan.”

When working in a professional setting, keep these five phrases out of your mind. Do you have any other phrases you think should never be used with your boss? Share them with us below.

Fred Wilson

Agile and Software Consultant at nTask. Productivity expert. Tech enthusiast.

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