Worst Words to Say at Work

On 05/31/2010, in Career, by Jordan Wilson

I read this Forbes.com article over the weekend and thought it worthy of highlighting.

In business, the use of words and phrases such as those listed tend to aggravate managers.

Although the article is good, I do have a few thoughts to add.

Where I Agree

Managers like clarity and preciseness. And they love people that get things done.

As I have written before, if you can be seen as a “solutions” person – one that is able to get tasks successfully completed on time and on budget – you will have a great career in any field.

Unfortunately, most people are “problems” persons. They will “try” to get the task completed. They will get it done “if” something does not cause problems. Or they “guess” they can get the task completed. Or they should be able to complete the task, “but”…

These latter individuals are career killers. Not just for themselves. For their managers as well.

Imagine that you lead a team of three. Your boss assigns you a project to be completed by noon on Thursday. You divide the project into three sections and give it to your team. Tina is keen on her section and will “try” to have it done before the deadline. John is happy to undertake his piece and will have it done “if” he can get the proper information from the accounting group. And, Diane is less enthusiastic and “guesses” that she will be done in time.

Needless to say, come Thursday at noon, you have some explaining to do to your boss. And, she in turn, to her boss.

Through little fault of your own, you look bad in the eyes of your superiors.

In a future post I shall point out a few ways to deal with this problem. Unfortunately, a common one involves doing all the work yourself.

Where I Slightly Differ

While I understand the point Ms. Durre, the author, is making, I might differ with her on the “I don’t know” and “I’ll get back to you” phrases.

I do agree with the examples that Ms. Durre uses on when not to use these terms. However, at times, I believe employees should not be afraid to employ them.

In business, I do not, and cannot, expect staff to know everything about everything.

You should definitely know your core competency areas, but sometimes questions arise where you do not have the response immediately at hand.

I would much rather that you admit to your boss or client that you are not 100% certain of a point in question. Instead, state that you will verify and revert with the correct answer as soon as possible. If you do this prudently (i.e. not for every question ever raised) and respond as quickly as is possible, you will not be looked down upon.

In fact, as either your manager or client, I would respect you more for your honesty. And I would put more faith in your other answers because I would assume they were accurate.

However, if you are scared of admitting that you do not know something and give a less than complete answer, you will likely cause larger problems as a result. This will create more negativity for you than by simple admitting you did not know.

While not expressly cited in the linked article, the other area that is difficult for employees is to say “no”. That is why they use a lot of weasel words instead.

During your work career you will be assigned tasks that cannot be completed within the deadline. Often this is because your boss did not appreciate the work required to complete the assignment. Because many employees do not want to be seen as a “problems” person, they unhappily agree to the too tight deadline and failure is certain.

Before agreeing on deadlines, to the extent that you have any say, point out in writing the upfront problems with the time frame. If you can objectively explain the difficulties before starting, perhaps your boss will reconsider the deadline. If you do not outline the issues ahead of time, it is much harder to cite them as an excuse when they do create problems.

A good manager will listen to valid reasons a deadline is unattainable. The manager will challenge the employee’s reasoning, but will be open to a deadline extension or the addition of resources to assist. But, if you do not raise any potential problems ahead of time, it is often difficult to change the deadline later.

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3 Responses to “Worst Words to Say at Work”

  1. Great blog post.Really looking forward to read more.

  2. This is just the sort of info I was looking for! Thanks 🙂

  3. BBG says:

    Great post. I really appreciate the information. You have done a good job communicating your message. Keep up the good work.

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