4 Phrases You Should Absolutely Never Say at Work

people in the office

Now, let’s start off with the absolute honest truth: the facts of professional relationships, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Working with team members on a project, or on day-to-day tasks can be tiring. Yes, it’s great to work with your colleagues and more often than not professional relationships flourish in in-house teams so much so that working friendships develop. But there are times when you’d rather tell your colleague to pick up the slack, rather than do the job for your work friend.

We’ve all been there, the phrase is literally on the tip of our tongues, we’re not quite sure how we’re going to manage our work schedule and someone drops in with a call for help; you’re the first call of support and you blurt out the infamous phrases that make your colleagues cringe.

Biting your tongue at work is a choice, there are factors you should always consider before expressing your truest feelings while in the office. Here are some phrases you should never say, with alternative expression to solve an uncomfortable situation:

1. The hardest hitter: “that’s not my job”

If you’ve worked in an office environment, or a group working environment in general, you’ve probably lost count of the times you’ve uttered these words, or at least thought them. Well, you might be justified in saying this, the job is not in your scope of work, you’re busy and can’t prioritize someone else’s responsibilities or maybe, it’s simply something you don’t want to do due to promotion reasons or capability limitations.

Any reason is justified but are you coming off as a sole ranger? What your colleagues might understand from “that’s not my job” is “I’m not interested in helping anyone, I’m only looking out for myself.” Whereas what you actually want to say is, “I can’t really prioritise that right now, I’ve got urgent responsibilities to tend to.”

It’s fine if you’re busy – that’s what you’re employed to do, so make sure you’re a team player. 15 minutes off your lunch break might help your overworked colleague pulling 60hr weeks.

2. The buzz kill: “we’ve already tried that”

Let’s imagine you work in a creative agency and you’re working on a Christmas campaign for one of your clients. You come up with an excellent strategy, prepare all the legwork and present it to your team, only to hear, “we’ve already tried that… it didn’t work.”

Hold up. What didn’t work exactly? How was this idea used? Why did the client refuse it? Why did it perform badly on social media? There are so many questions we need to answer before we turn down creative ideas or suggestions.

Here’s what you hear from your colleagues when they shut you off: “your idea is not so great, it won’t work – why don’t you know that we’ve already tried this?” Instantly setting off doubt, disappointment and frustration in the team – never a creativity motivator.

What your colleagues should say is this, “Yes, I know what you’re thinking! We tried this already, and we didn’t get the results we hoped for.” That’s already less of a blow, setting the tone as, “we were on the same path but..”, rather than, “your ideas aren’t good enough!”

Remember, the stronger the team, the better the campaign proposal.

3. The rookie scare: “that’s not how we do it here”

Apart from sounding like a high school insult, the ghastly “we were here first” attitude is the firestarter to office cliques and favouritism. Your company should employ the attitude of a team, the new guys in the office might not know exactly how things work in your department or company but their 2 cents is worth considering.

The moment “that’s not how we do it here” is unleashed onto the office, newer, or less confident employees immediately think, “oh no! I’ve done something wrong – I’m going to get fired!” And that’s the worst mentality to promote in a team. Feeling as though you need to conform to an office culture when you see the bigger picture with a fresh pair of eyes is frustrating.

What you’d rather hear is: “hmm, we’ve never done it that way, let’s see if it works!” Accepting your suggestion’s possibility to fail or flourish is a great stand you can take to get on board with your new team.

4. The worst excuse: “we don’t have budget for that”

If you’re the money man in the company, or possibly even a manager with executive access to client and company budgets, choose your words wisely when talking of budgets. A company’s budget is primarily not every employee’s business – big companies would not need to have every one of their 100 employees know about their client’s budgets. Only a certain amount of people need to know these details.

To avoid saying things like, “we don’t have budget for that”,  set clear plans for your budget, create a transparent system where brand leaders and executives know what they can and cannot offer to their clients, based on allocated funds set for each project.

When it comes to the phrase “we don’t have budget for that”, used from an appraisal point of view, employees will feel disheartened and under-appreciated if their managers used this expression to justify their refusal of a pay rise.

There are so many ways you can misstep with your words, but general sensitivity towards your staff’s worth and efforts should always be adopted. Learning what your employees, colleagues and even superiors require in terms of your professional conduct might be difficult to understand, but standard etiquette often goes a long way.

If you’re ever in doubt about how your next words will be received, think of a more acceptable way to communicate your feelings or situation. Take your time, breathe and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you never know, you might be on the receiving end on a busy day at the office.


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