10 Worst Things to Say at Work

By: Anthony Balderrama

Over time, you’ve probably learned what not to say in a relationship. “Are you losing your hair?” “Yes, you do look fat in that dress.” “I should give my old boyfriend a call.” “You’re just like your mother.” Experience has taught you just how much trouble you can get into with a few words.

When it comes to the workplace, however, you might not realize there are plenty of things you can say to damage your work relationships or even your own career. An off-the-cuff remark that you think went unnoticed, for example, might be the first thing your boss remembers when he thinks about you.

“During my 23 years in management, I heard many comments from colleagues that reduced their credibility and damaged morale,” says Bill Lampton, Ph.D. and author of “The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life!”

Remember: Just because you don’t end up sleeping on the couch, it doesn’t mean your mouth can’t still get you in trouble. For the sake of your career, we’ve put together a list of things you should avoid saying at work.

  1. “That’s not my job.”

If somebody comes to you with an issue, there’s probably a reason. It might be your responsibility to deal with it or your input is valued. Either way, use the situation to prove you’re a team player and a problem solver. Plus, it pays to earn some good office karma because you never know when you’ll need help from other colleagues.

  1. “Yeah, no problem.” (If you don’t mean it.

If you take on a task with a smile but have no intention of actually completing it, you’re going to earn a reputation as an unreliable person. If you know you can’t or won’t complete the project, be honest about it. Your colleagues are relying on you, so your decision not to follow through impacts their jobs, too.

  1. “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but … ”

If it’s really a secret, keep it to yourself. Whether you know someone’s about to get fired or what the boss’ salary is, you’re going to get credit for spreading the news. You’re not exempt from being the subject of office chatter, either. Don’t expect your gossip-loving co-worker to suddenly have tight lips when it comes to divulging your secrets.

  1. “I haven’t had a raise in four years.”

“Most savvy supervisors don’t think longevity merits a raise – only high productivity does,” Lampton states. Asking for a raise because of how long it’s been since your last one will tell your boss only that you want more money, not that you deserve it. Instead, highlight the accomplishments you’ve made in the last four years, Lampton suggests. Prove the raise is merited.

  1. “It’s not my fault.”

When your boss comes to you with a problem, the last thing you want to do is to deflect blame to someone else. Maybe it isn’t your fault, but remember that you’re not in a courtroom and nobody’s looking for the culprit right now. All that matters is making sure the problem is solved and doesn’t happen again. You can deal with the real issue later, but you’ll just make yourself look worse if you spend more time finger-pointing than problem solving.

  1. “To be honest with you … ” 

First, any time this phrase is used, you know something negative is going to follow. More important is the message it sends to others. “Does this colleague have to identify when he or she is being honest with you? When that phrase is not used, should you then doubt the integrity of the statement?” Lampton asks. Instead, without being rude, say what you need to say in a straightforward manner.

  1. “Whom did you vote for?”

The old adage that you shouldn’t discuss politics is as true today as ever before. While it’s great that you’re an active citizen performing your civic duty, save the political talk for your personal blog. Even if the conversation doesn’t result in an argument, you never know whom you’re making uncomfortable or who will hold your views against you. In a sea of cubicles, there are more people listening to your conversation than you think.

  1. “I got so trashed last night … ” 

You’re probably not the only person in the office to indulge in a drink (or a keg) now and then, but you’re probably the only one bragging about it to your boss. Although your night of binge drinking didn’t force you to call in sick this morning, it can create the image of an unreliable partier who forgot to leave the beer bong in the dorm room.

  1. “I just didn’t have enough time for that.”

In case you didn’t realize, everybody’s pretty busy these days. When your boss asks you to do something, chances are it’s not really an option. If your main concern is accomplishing the task on time, Lampton suggests you explain the situation. Mention how busy your schedule is but that you can accommodate the request if some other projects are rearranged. You’ll show that you take each assignment seriously and only want to turn in your best work.

  1. “. . . or else.”

Giving anyone in the office an ultimatum rarely ends in success. Whether you say it to a colleague or your new intern, you’ll only gain enemies and earn a reputation for being difficult. If cordial requests don’t work and threats are the only way to get things done in the office, you need to re-evaluate your work environment.




About Amr Badran

An Egyptian Business Consultant and Corporate Trainer since 1997. I've trained on Management, Leadership and Soft Skills to thousands of people from many nationalities, backgrounds and professions in more than 10 countries across the Middle and Far East. I've also provided my consultancy service for issues of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Sales and Capacity Building. Holder of an MBA and a Candidate for Doctorate in Business. Find more about my Management and Personal Skills Courses at AmrBadran.com and feel free contacting me at Amr@AmrBadran.com
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