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Be More Professional- Don't Say This at Work! ❌

Words are extremely powerful.

The words we use can impact how others see us: strong or weak, certain or uncertain, trustworthy or untrustworthy, confident or unconfident…

In this lesson I’ll share 10 phrases to avoid around the office as well as suggestions of stronger words to use if you want to sound more confident and professional.

Sound good?

Let’s get started…

1. “Is that okay?”

This is often used as a tag question, seeking to verify that our plan or actions are approved by another.

“I’ll analyze the feedback responses to create a list of common concerns and send it to you by Friday. Is that ok?"

But what it sounds like is “HELP ME,” I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea if my recommendation is a good one or not.

You want to particularly avoid this phrase when working with clients. 

The question demonstrates a lack of confidence in your plan of action. What you want to convey instead is certainty that you know what you’re talking about and you want to verify your client or customer is getting what they need.

Alternative: Is this what you had in mind?

Or, if you are suggesting a plan of action to your manager, instead of asking “is that ok?”  outline your plan and check for approval with something like: “Let me know if I should proceed.”

2. “You're wrong”

No matter your intentions, no one likes to hear this one and your interaction is almost certain to end negatively.

But we’re not all going to agree on everything all the time, and a lot of times discussion of differing opinions leads to a better final solution.

So instead of “you’re wrong," try, “I disagree and here’s why... what do you think?” 

By saying this, you’re being straight-forward while inviting an open discussion to occur.

3. “No offense, but”

Generally people only start a sentence this way if they are about to say something offensive but don’t want to come across that way. You’re trying to absolve yourself of the possible anger or hurt feelings you may cause.

There’s really no alternative for this one. As a general rule, if you have to say “no offense, but” then you are better off not saying anything at all.

4. "I don't know" 

Here’s a reassuring truth: No one expects you to know everything. It’s ok to admit you don’t have an answer. 

The response “I don’t know” by itself is an ending to an exchange whereas adding a few more words, saying “I don’t know, but I will find out” demonstrates willingness to take action and find answers on your part. 

You could also say “Let me look into that.”

Another option is to share what you do know with a phrase like “Here’s what I can tell you.”

“Here’s what I can tell you- the invitation went out on Monday and responses were requested by Friday.”

You could also respond with “I have the same question.”

And if you know someone who likely has the answer you can say something like “let’s reach out to _____. I think she’ll have some insight on this.

5. “He/she works for me.”

If you are a manager you want to avoid this phrase.  

Whether you intend to or not, it conveys a certain sense of superiority and need to be recognized as the higher point in a hierarchy.

It’s much more inclusive and team oriented to say “we work together” when introducing members of your team.

6. “I hate to bother you but…”

In professional situations, if you have a question or need clarification, it’s important. You’re not bothering anyone. Starting your interaction with “I hate to bother you but…” conveys uncertainty and immediately puts you in an unnecessarily submissive position. 

Instead, say, “Excuse me, do you have a few moments to discuss something?” or “Whenever you have a few moments, I would like to discuss something with you.” These two phrases show competence while still letting you have control in the conversation.

7. “I Hope to Hear From You Soon!”

This is a common way to end emails, especially when following up with potential new clients or customers or in follow up interview interactions.

But ending your emails “hoping” that you’ll hear from your recipient makes it sound like you think there’s a good chance you won’t. Instead, project confidence that the conversation will continue, with something like, “I look forward to discussing next steps,” or “I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

8. I think/I believe/I feel…”

Here, I’m specifically talking about using these words in an interview scenario, or when establishing a new client or customer.  

When you say, “I think I can be a great asset to your company” it implies that you don’t believe in yourself. Instead, remove the “I think” and speak with certainty.

“My unique skill set makes me a perfect match for this position.” 

Or instead of “I think” say “I know.”

“I know I can help you and your team make significant gains in productivity while reducing overall operating costs.”

The best way to get better at speaking with this type of certainty is to start thinking positively about yourself and what you offer. Then practice speaking these types of direct statements out loud so you can confidently say them to others.

9. “*insert name* told me to do it”

When a mistake happens a statement like this makes it sound like you can’t think for yourself and that you’re seeking someone else to blame. 

It makes you seem inexperienced and incapable of working things out for yourself.

What you really need to convey is your ability to problem solve and find solutions.

Mistakes happen. It may be entirely your fault, and it may not. What’s more important in situations like this is to acknowledge the mistake and convey clearly that you are taking steps to address it. 

Alternative: “We clearly made a mistake here, let me share the steps we’re taking to make things right.”

Or, if you are working on your plan to address the problem:

“I’ve made a mistake here and I am committed to making things right. I’ll get back to you shortly to let you know the specific steps I’m taking to fix the problem.”

And finally...

10. This might sound stupid/silly but…

This opener automatically frames whatever you're about to propose as easily dismissed.

If you have an idea or suggestion, state it out right with a phrase like “Here’s an idea,” “Here’s a suggestion” or even “Here’s something to consider.” Your confidence and energy surrounding an idea can be contagious.

Again, practicing these types of statements before a meeting or important conversation can be key in helping you deliver your ideas with certainty and confidence.

So there you have it. 10 phrases to reduce or eliminate and some stronger alternatives to use instead.

It can take time and practice to perfect professional business language but these phrases are a great place to start as you work toward sounding more direct and confident in conversations around the office.

 

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