The next time you’re about to make a comment at work, think twice- is it something that could be potentially harmful to your career? For example, saying something like “I’m not sure” may come off as being unsure of yourself and lacking confidence. A range of professionals from different careers spoke to Levo League about the commonly heard phrases in their workplaces. To avoid sounding unprofessional, here are some alternatives to negative phrases.
- “I don’t know.”
Wabi Sabi Eco Fashion Concept’s founder and CEO, Michele Helene Cohen, says that constantly saying “I don’t know” erodes your knowledge and credibility.
“It makes the person–whether it be a client, boss, coworker, or collaborator–feel uneasy. ‘Let me check on that for you or ‘I’ll get back to you with the exact answer’ gives a clear response that reassures what it is you will tell the person and the time frame that you will need to get the answer to them,” Cohen suggested.
- “I could be wrong.”
According to Irina Baranov, executive coach and speaker, the phrase “I could be wrong, but…” is shudder-worthy.
She tells her clients, “It diminishes whatever you’re about to say next.”
Baranov also thinks there is a better alternative to the auto-pilot phrase “here’s what I need you to do.”
“It’s much better to go with ‘here’s what needs to be done, as it’s less condescending. I also advise that my clients avoid saying ‘this is how we’ve always done things since it often comes off as being close-minded to new ways of doing things,” Baranov stated.
- “When do you need it by?”
Mitzi Weinman is the founder of TimeFinder and especially hates the question “When do you need it by?”
Weinman says that deadlines only bring on vague confusion and misunderstanding.
“Asking this question gives someone else controls over your time. When someone is giving you work, suggest when you can get it back to them. For example: ‘I can get this back to you by tomorrow after 3:00 p.m. Will that work?’ If it does, great, if it doesn’t, then ask when would be better and begin a little negotiation.”
- “I’ll try.”
Brad Hoover, CEO of the automated proofreading company Grammarly, suggests avoiding the word “try” at work.
“I cringe when I hear, ‘I’ll give it a try,’ because the phrase suggests a failure to me. The alternate response ‘I’ll do it inspires confidence every time.”
- “I deserve…”
Throughout her career as HR Manager at Inc. 5000 company TechnologyAdvice in Nashville, Heather Neisen has collected an extensive repertoire of inappropriate phrases overheard at work.
One of their biggest pet peeves she has is hearing the phrase: “I deserve a raise for what I’m doing.”
She says, “If you’re adding value and taking on more responsibility, you’re going to be rewarded for it. Being openly frustrated and telling others you deserve a raise is often an indicator that your work is either not engaging you or that you feel entitled.”
According to Neisen, simply saying you deserve a raise is not always the best way to get your employer’s attention for a performance review. In some cases, it may be appropriate for an employer to review your compensation, but more often than not there are better ways to get their attention.
[Related: Learn the Right Way to #ask4more]
“It is better to present your case tactfully, requesting a time to sit down and talk about what the plan is instead of making demands,” offers Neisen.
- “I’m done.”
The phrase “I’m done with my work!” is one that she – and other managers – can’t stand.”
“For me, this conjures images of kids telling their parents they are done with their homework so they can go watch TV,” Neisen says. “You may have powered through your to-do list for the day, but staying engaged in the workplace means you’re never really done with your work because there is always something you can do to be productive, whether it’s helping out your teammates or learning something new.”
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