Saying the wrong thing — or using the wrong turn of phrase — at work can upset and alienate colleagues.
So if you want to save yourself and others some unnecessary grief, here are a few ‘work phrases’ you and your team should consider retiring.
Well, it’s always been done this way
Old habits die hard. Even though it’s easy to become complacent and set in your ways, it’s important to remain open-minded to others’ suggestions.
If a new team member, or a newly promoted employee, floats the idea of changing things up, be open to it.
Avoid saying things like “We’ve always done it this way,” or “That’s not how we do things.”
Instead, listen to what that person has to say and ask about the advantages of changing to a new method, that way at least you’ll seem collaborative and cooperative.
And if you really want to stick to your guns, then at least take the time to explain why change hasn’t been implemented or worked in the past. Who knows, maybe some of the old roadblocks might no longer be there.
It’ll only take a minute
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this and winced. Nothing, not even the most menial task, takes one minute, so don’t say it does.
I realize this may just be a turn of phrase, but when you ask a colleague to do something because “it’ll only take one minute” it immediately undermines that individual’s job and any other tasks they may be working on.
If you feel the need to say this, stop yourself, and think about how you can be respectful of others’ time.
You could, for example, try saying something like: “Let me know if you have some time to chat as I want to discuss X.”
It’s not my job
We’ve all been there: someone asks someone else to do something and they pull out the “it’s not my job” card.
Don’t be one of these people, it’s petty, and it’ll get you nowhere. As soon as someone hears this they immediately think you’re not a team player, and while getting away with not doing something may seem like a short-term victory, it will hurt you in the long run. After all, who wants a reputation as an uncooperative employee?
If someone asks you to do something which you feel isn’t within your remit, acknowledge this in a positive way by saying that you’ve not done it before but that you can take care of it.
Embrace the opportunity to show how versatile and adaptable you are and I guarantee you’ll reap the benefits some time down the line.
If you don’t want to do the task you’ve been asked to take on, own up to it, and provide the reasons why. However, it’s important to watch your tone as you don’t want to appear negative.
Erm, I’ll try
There’s of course nothing inherently wrong with trying, but this can often sound a little negative, as if you’ve been handed an unachievable task but you’re going to take it on regardless.
If you’re on deadline — or simply don’t have the time to take on extra work — be transparent and open about it. It’s important that your team knows if you’re snowed under.
Don’t set yourself up for failure because only you will pay the consequences.
Be proactive and let others know well in advance that you may need help to meet the deadline. Keep positive but speak up if you running the project isn’t feasible — peoplewill thank you for the advanced notice.
Let’s touch base
Avoid using empty, meaningless phrases such as “Let’s touch base.” Why? Because it’s overused and it actually doesn’t actually mean anything.
My problem with this phrase stems from the fact that it’s vague and it can hold many projects hostage.
Instead, I would urge you to be specific in your communication with colleagues and team members.
Give them a proposed time frame, outline what you want to discuss, and provide an overview of what they can expect.
Let’s circle back
I couldn’t write this piece without mentioning “Let’s circle back,” another empty way to end a conversation that’s paved the way for countless memes and online jokes.
When you use this phrase, you’re essentially telling others that you’re afraid of committing to course of action — it’s the workplace equivalent to burying your head just like an ostrich.
A funny thing about quarantining is hearing your partner in full work mode for the first time. Like, I’m married to a “let’s circle back” guy — who knew?
— Laura Norkin (@inLaurasWords) March 19, 2020
Instead, make sure you specify the next course of action and assign tasks and responsibilities among team members so that everyone is clear about what’s expected of them.
Set a realistic timeline, schedule a catch up meeting, and outline what needs to be done by then.
These quick tips should help you seem less annoying, make inroads with colleagues, and keep stock of ongoing projects. Now, though, you’re on your own!
Do you have any tips on workplace communication? Then share your insights with the Growth Quarters community.