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9 Common Phrases that Devalue What You Say and Make You Look Petty

If you have to qualify your statement with “to be honest” or “honestly,” it implies that you weren’t being honest all along. And even if what you’re going to say is honest, you’ve introduced the concept that you could also be dishonest. There are several other phrases people use every day in a formal environment that undermines what you intend to say or even worse. You will learn about some of them and what better to say in this article.

If you’re looking to advance in your career, your first start is to think about the way you communicate. But a handful of irritating—and common—words and phrases can undermine your hard work. Words are powerful, and some words and phrases can really project negative energy. At best, such phrases are distracting. In the worst-case scenario, they can actually trigger a strong negative reaction in your counterpart, either to the conversation or to you. While it’s impossible to police every word you say, here are phrases you should avoid whenever possible.

1. “This Might Be Silly”

Another version of this is when you say “This is a dumb question, but…” When you use self-deprecating language before you put forth your ideas, you’re immediately diluting others’ confidence in you and giving them permission to dismiss you. Some people might start with, ‘This might not be a good idea; maybe we’ve already done this; this might not work‘. So, starting the conversation with minimizing what they’re going to offer. When people say that, it just makes everyone else think you are not secure enough to ask your question, or else admit you don’t understand. Instead, simply state your idea without qualifying it. You’ll be more valued for your contributions.

2. “With all Due Respect”

If you have to qualify your statement with “respectfully” or “with all due respect,” what follows isn’t likely to be respectful and often won’t be productive. And even if what you’re going to say is respectful, you’ve introduced the concept that it isn’t. Why would I think you’re about to say something to disrespect me in a conversation? Instead, if you’re reacting out of anger, take a moment to collect your thoughts to respond appropriately. You can argue your point without a disingenuous lead-in. Otherwise, just say what you have to say.

3. “Try”

When people work together to complete projects or tasks, it’s essential to know who is working on what. When someone says they will TRY to complete something, it leaves the requester with doubts about the person’s commitment level to the task and whether the need will ultimately be met.

In other instances, if you ask someone to “try,” you may seem as if you’re calling their capabilities into question. For example, saying “Try to submit the proposal tomorrow morning” sounds like the speaker believes what he or she is asking of is not achievable within the set time. Instead simply say, “I’m counting on you to submit the proposal tomorrow morning”. On the other hand, if you’re not convinced you can complete a task, instead of saying, “I’ll try and submit…” give specifics about the challenges or concerns. That can help you get the clarity, assistance, or resources you need.

4. “Don’t you think?”

Ending a statement or sentence with ‘don’t you think’ is looking for validation. And it undermines your self-opinion. Something like this ‘we should put up a new banner… don’t you think?‘ It makes one seem unsure of themselves… While collaboration is encouraged in the workplace, it’s best done without a show of self-doubt. Instead, simply state your idea and wait for others to weigh in. Or you can say, ‘what do you think?’

5. ‘It’s not fair.’

Everyone knows that life isn’t fair. Saying it’s not fair suggests that you think life is supposed to be fair, which makes you look immature and naïve. If you don’t want to make yourself look bad, you need to stick to the facts, stay constructive, and leave your interpretation out of it. For instance, you could say, “I noticed that you assigned Fred that big project I was hoping for. Would you mind telling me what went into that decision? I’d like to know why you thought I wasn’t a good fit, so that I can work on improving those skills.”

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6. ‘This is how it’s always been done.’

Technology-fueled change is happening so fast that even a six-month-old process could be outdated. Saying this is the way it’s always been done not only makes you sound lazy and resistant to change, but it could make your boss wonder why you haven’t tried to improve things on your own. If you really are doing things the way they’ve always been done, there’s almost certainly a better way.

7. ‘That’s not in my job description.’

This often sarcastic phrase makes you sound as though you’re only willing to do the bare minimum required to keep getting a paycheck, which is a bad thing if you like job security. If your boss asks you to do something that you feel is inappropriate for your position, as opposed to morally or ethically inappropriate, the best move is to complete the task eagerly. Later, schedule a conversation with your boss to discuss your role in the company and whether your job description needs an update. This ensures that you avoid looking petty. It also enables you and your boss to develop a long-term understanding of what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

8. ‘It’s not my fault.’

It’s never a good idea to cast blame. Be accountable. If you had any role — no matter how small — in whatever went wrong, own it. If not, offer an objective explanation of what happened. Stick to the facts, and let your boss and colleagues draw their own conclusions about who’s to blame. The moment you start pointing fingers is the moment people start seeing you as someone who lacks accountability for their actions. Some will avoid working with you altogether, and others will strike first to blame you when something goes wrong.

9. ‘I can’t.’

People often don’t like to hear ‘I can’t’ because they think it means I won’t. Saying ‘I can’t’ suggests that you’re not willing to do what it takes to get the job done. If you really can’t do something because you truly lack the necessary skills, you need to offer an alternative solution. Instead of saying what you can’t do something, say what you can do. For example, instead of saying “I can’t stay late tonight,” say “I can come in early tomorrow morning. Will that work?” Instead of “I can’t run those numbers,” say “I don’t yet know how to run that type of analysis. Is there someone who can show me so that I can do it on my own next time?”

If you have gotten used to using any of these words or phrases, you will not magically stop using them because you read this article. But you can take cautious and start the gradual process of eliminating them from your vocabulary. What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comment section.

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