11 Phrases You Should Avoid Saying At Work

11 Phrases You Should Avoid Saying At Work

What you say in the office can determine how your colleagues and managers perceive you. It can have a lasting impact on your career so it is in your best interest to watch what you say in the workplace. We go through 11 things you definitely should avoid saying at work if you value your job.

Dr Travis Bradberry is the award-winning author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founder of TalentSmart. He has detailed the common verbal faux pas people commit in the workplace in this post on LinkedIn.

Bradberry highlights eleven phrases that could potentially damage people’s impression of you in the office. That’s not to say that you would be crucified if you ever uttered them but just be mindful that they can adversely affect people’s impression of you at work:

#1 “It’s not fair”

How old are you again? A phrase often heard from petulant kids and ungrateful teenagers, it is one that should not be used in the workplace as it makes you look immature and naïve.

If you do feel slighted, you should take it up with your co-worker or manager but do it in a constructive way. Stick with the facts and provide example.

Here’s a sample response from Dr Bradberry: “I noticed that you assigned Ann 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.”

#2 “This is the way it’s always been done”

Challenging the status quo has resulted in a myriad of innovations throughout human history. Just because something has been done the same way for years doesn’t mean it can’t be changed or improved. Saying “this is the way it’s always been done” makes you sound like a stubborn fool who is resistant to change and progress.

#3 “No problem”

As Dr Bradberry explains:

When someone asks you to do something or thanks you for doing something, and you tell them no problem, you’re implying that their request should have been a problem. This makes people feel as though they’ve imposed upon you.

It’s not exactly a career killer, but there are better ways to respond. For example, you can say “it was my pleasure” or “I’d be happy to take care of that”, which sounds much more pleasant to the other person.

#4 “I think …/This may be a silly idea …/I’m going to ask a stupid question”

These passive phrases will make you sound like you don’t have a shred of confidence. If you’re unsure of the answer to a particular question, just say “I don’t have that information right now, but I’ll find out and get right back to you.”

#5 “This will only take a minute”

You might think this makes you sound efficient but what it really does is make it look like you rush through tasks. Instead, you could say “this won’t take long”.

#6 “I’ll try”

This is another phrase that implies that you’re not confident. It also makes it sound like you won’t try all that hard on the requested task. If you really can’t do the task that is given, provide an alternative instead.

#7 “He’s lazy/incompetent/a jerk”

There is always the temptation to call out lousy coworkers, but Dr Bradberry advises against it:

There is no upside to making a disparaging remark about a colleague. If your remark is accurate, everybody already knows it, so there’s no need to point it out. If your remark is inaccurate, you’re the one who ends up looking like a jerk.   There will always be rude or incompetent people in any workplace, and chances are that everyone knows who they are. If you don’t have the power to help them improve or to fire them, then you have nothing to gain by broadcasting their ineptitude. Announcing your colleague’s incompetence comes across as an insecure attempt to make you look better. Your callousness will inevitably come back to haunt you in the form of your coworkers’ negative opinions of you.

#8 “That’s not in my job description”

Being asked to do something outside of your remit is frustrating but that doesn’t mean you should flat out refuse.

If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s best to complete the task eagerly and then talk to your manager later on to discuss whether your job description needs to be updated. That way, you won’t look petty and you’ll get an opportunity review what you should and shouldn’t be doing in your current role.

#9 “It’s not my fault”

As Dr Bradberry puts it:

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, dispassionate explanation of what happened. Stick to the facts, and let your boss and colleagues draw their own conclusions about who’s to blame.

#10 “I can’t”

You can always give something a go and if you really can’t do something, at least offer an alternative so you don’t look like a quitter.

For example, instead of saying “I can’t stay late tonight,” say “I can come in early tomorrow morning. Will that work?”

#11 “I hate this job”

This one’s rather obvious, don’t you think?

Nobody wants to hear someone else at work whine about how much they hate their job. You don’t want to be the “Negative Nancy” in your office as you’ll be bringing down the morale of your whole workplace.

Remember, there are plenty of people who could take your job if you really don’t want it.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • #12 “phrases to avoid”
    This makes you sound like a jerk who wants a corporate atmosphere where honesty and openness are replaced with conformity and deceit.

  • #10 all the time.
    Sorry, IT don’t have anything to do with that system. Other department runs it and we literally have no access.

    • I’ve heard that from IT before and even when it’s true it often comes off as sounding like “Nope, CBF.” A better way to approach it is, “that system is actually controlled by X. Here’s their phone number/email”

      • Often I have no idea who is in charge. I work IT over a few schools. Often the schools will subscribe to some service or whatever without our knowledge or sometimes with it. Then we get asked to add new users of something. I have no idea who manages it but often can give them a name or two. Or say “the next person you see, ask them who gave them their login credentials, then go find that person”.

  • “That’s not in my job description”… I’ve actually seen someone fired for saying “not my job” when asked to help out for something that wasn’t expressly stated in her contract.

    Sadly, “ad-hoc duties as required” seems to be in all my contracts, which kinda covers anything else I’m asked to do! 🙂

    • I’m in IT, and my “ad-hoc duties” have included photographic duties at major events, coming in as “guest speaker” in a Photoshop class, supervising children and at one point, AV technician. So I know all too well what “ad-hoc duties as required” involves.

    • If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s best to complete the task eagerly and then talk to your manager later on

      Whilst I will usually try to help out with tasks outside of my job description, I am already running a department alone due to budget cuts, so it’s not always possible to complete something extra “eagerly” without adding a few extra hours to my work week.

  • Saying “no problem” is a problem? Really??

    And for #4, the explanation doesn’t match the statement. The article says, “Don’t use the phrase ‘Here’s a stupid question’ which implies that you’re asking a question, but then explains what to do if you’re asked a question and don’t have the answer.

    • I say Nr 4 all the time! However nowadays I do it Arnie Style.
      No Problemo! (with accent)

      People don’t seem to mind

  • #13: “This software is 30 years old. Isn’t it time we updated it?”
    #14: “OH&S”
    #15: “I”
    #16: “We” (no, really. I’ve been told off for using the word. I was emailing staff about an upcoming system outage, and used the word “we” to indicate that the server would be rebooted at 5pm. As I was the one doing the rebooting (not the whole IT team), I got a stern reminder to use the word “I” instead.

  • “It’s always be done this way”
    I hit this one when i took over management (in the same company) from a particularly stubborn worker. My response was always “I’m not xxxxxxx (previous manager) and i want it done this way” he was never happy about the response but he also knew my attitude was do it or f…. off.

    My wife works with a couple of people who pull the “not in my job description” card. Not only are they going nowhere in that company but with that attitude they are not going to get anywhere in that industry.

  • On multiple occasions at my old job I would respond with “Well do you want it done quickly or do you want it done properly?”
    It wasn’t always well received. Only say this if you know your shit 10x better than everyone.

  • “If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s best to complete the task eagerly”… There’s nothing wrong with politely standing up for your rights and refusing. Rights are harder to get back than they are to lose in the first place.

    • And then it recommends you talking with your boss to add it to your job description? F that S.

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