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  • Writer's pictureLynn Elsey

5 things you shouldn’t say at work

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

Don’t get tripped up by using phrases that might create negative impressions.

Travis Bradberry, a specialist in emotional intelligence, has identified a number of frequently-used expressions that can undermine the credibility and skills of the speaker, noting that people often make quick judgements and have long memories about what they hear from their co-workers.

Here are five phrases you might want to reconsider using:

1. No problem

Yes, it is just a throwaway statement, but the underlying premise is that someone has asked you do something that is a problem – in other words, they have imposed on you. A better response would be to respond with a positive message: “I’ll be happy to do that”.

2. I’m going to ask a stupid question

Don’t erode your credibility by suggesting, even in jest, that you are short on intelligence or confidence. Either your question is worth asking or it isn’t.

3. This will only take a minute

This can sound as if you are going to rush through the request and perhaps not give it the attention it deserves, unless it really is something you can do in less than 60 seconds. Better to provide a more accurate description of how long it really will, and should, take to accomplish.

4. I’ll try

Although it is nice to show that you are willing to give something a go, “trying” suggests that you don’t have the confidence to actually do the job. Bradberry suggests either taking full ownership of the task or recommending an alternative.

5. I can’t

Bradberry says that when people hear this statement, they tend to think that you are saying that you won’t do something, in other words, that you aren’t willing to do what is needed. If you can’t achieve the task because you lack the skills or resources, then be up front and suggest alternate solutions. For example: “I am not an expert on that type of program. How about finding someone who is, and I can work along with them so that I can do it myself the next time?”


Originally published in the NSW Law Society eNewsletter.

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