STOP: 10 Words to Never Use at Work

by Joe Epstein on 6 June 2014 3 comments

Assuming you have a place of work right now, you likely did something very right in an interview. Maybe you even successfully avoided these 10 Words to Never Use in a Job Interview. So that's the good news.

The bad news is that minding your tongue still matters now that you've got the job, and the wrong word still has the power to separate you from said job. Though none of the below words and phrases will necessarily get you fired on the spot (like obvious slurs and profanity might), they may be even more insidious: you very well may be using them, hurting yourself with each utterance, and not even knowing it. (See also: You're Fired! 20 Signs That a Pink Slip is Coming)

So take a look at the list, and remember that even if you have a good reason for using one of these words, others may be perceiving something negative every time you use it. Nobody said this was fair.

Speaking of which…

Fair

You may be treated exceedingly fairly at work. You may not be. But pointing out the "fairness" (or lack thereof) of any given situation in the office isn't an effective way to bring about change. This is because it misses the point, which is that a business place is about creating value. If you feel something's unfair, better to analyze the ways in which said injustice hurts the company, and then present those in a measured argument.

Even in cases of customer service, "fair" doesn't have much relevance. Is it fair for any angry customer to take out frustration on a service rep? No. And would it be fair for the service rep to hang up on said customer? Yes. But again, "fairness" isn't the goal of the interaction — protecting the company's reputation (and by extension, furthering its value) is.

Try

There are no certainties in the workplace, and everyone understands this at some level. So from a logical perspective, explaining that you'll "try" something instead of that you'll "do" something is redundant. Everything is a try. And from a rhetorical level, the word communicates a lack of confidence in your ability — a hedging of bets, preparing for possible failure. Better to "do" everything and then apologize when you can't successfully "do" one thing down the line than "try" everything. Yoda said it best, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Whatever

This word is an insult, and it's a lazy one at that. It's a one-size-fits-all exasperated gasp that communicates to the other person, "I can't think of a more intelligent response," or "you're not worth hearing my more intelligent response." Either way, the word demeans you, them, and the conversation. If you have a problem with someone or something, and you think it's an appropriate time to communicate the problem… then communicate! Don’t use a passive aggressive word like "whatever" to show you're unhappy without explaining why.

I Guess

See above. At best, this phrase communicates dissatisfaction without communicating its cause. Like "try," it also expresses a desire to shirk off ultimate responsibility — to establish that you agree with something, but not so much that you stand up for it if it fails.

We'll See

While seemingly an indication of a coming decision, this phrase actually does the exact opposite: it's a placeholder, delaying a decision indefinitely. Clearly, all decisions aren't ready to be made as soon as someone asks, and telling someone that you're not quite ready to make a certain call yet is acceptable. But "we'll see" is often used in place of an explanation as to why or when the decision will be made, effectively giving the other person nothing to go on.

I'll Get Back to You

Like "we'll see," this phrase is often used as a stalling technique. It communicates nothing about when you'll get back to them, depriving them of the ability to plan or prepare. Further, it's dismissive — it acknowledges that you're not giving the other person a timetable, which can come off as demeaning. Give the person a timetable, even if you can't be exact on a date and time.

You Guys

Even if your workplace is informal, this can come off as particularly unprofessional. More to the point, it's shorthand that addresses a group less precisely than things like "your team" or "your company," which are easy and effective substitutes. And finally, if women are present, it's inaccurate at best, and offensive at worst.

I May Be Wrong, But…

Just like "try," there's a redundancy here. Of course you may be wrong. Everyone may be wrong, always. So it goes without saying. But if you're making a statement, you should have some confidence that you're right. And if you're unsure of something, that's fine too, but then it'd be better to ask a question than offer an uninformed opinion.

Okay?

As an acknowledgment, this is fine (as in, answering "Can you take care of that?" with "Okay"), but when used as a question, it's problematic. Tacking on "okay" at the end of a declarative statement is validation-seeking: it implies that your statement only holds true if the person you're making it to agrees. So lose it — it's okay to be wrong!

Impossible

The idea that "nothing is impossible" may seem cheesy for a work setting and may not even be true… some ideas in the workplace are impossible. But it's very unlikely that you've really exhausted thinking about all possibilities, so it's not your place to deem someone else's idea. As such, "I can't see a way to make that work right now" is more accurate.

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Jeremy

These are great pointers, Joe! A colleague of mine once used the word "whatever" to our boss, and words can't describe how much it angered our boss. If you're in a professional setting, you're going to have to act accordingly if you don't want to get your self in trouble.

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Guest

I'd like to add: "does that make sense?" Can be construed good or bad, but mosyly leaves a negative taste in your mouth..., as if you need it explained like a child and are being asked if it makes sense...

Joe Epstein's picture

Agreed! It's up to YOU, the person making a statement, to be confident that what you're saying does, in fact, make sense!