Career Advice, Watercooler

7 Common Phrases That Make You Look Bad at Work

Whether you are giving a major presentation or simply speaking with a colleague about a project, effective communication is key. It sounds simple, but really, the art of workplace interaction is one of the toughest to master. And unfortunately, there are a lot of small ways you can trip up. Something as innocuous as a misplaced word or offhand comment can leave a bad impression that lasts for weeks.

The good news, though, is that these errors are relatively easy to fix — all it takes is a little bit of self-awareness. Eager to upgrade your office vocab and dazzle your coworkers with your communication skills? Read on to find out which phrases you need to ditch, and what you should say instead.

1. “Do you think you could…”


“Do you think you could have that draft in by Tuesday?”

It makes sense why people phrase requests and deadlines like this — no one wants to sound like they’re barking orders at their teammates. But when you verbally tiptoe around an ask, it can lead to genuine confusion. Take the example above: the ambiguousness of the statement means somebody could read Tuesday as either a firm deadline, or a suggested timeline based on their bandwidth. If you’re working against a clear deadline, don’t be afraid to ask “Can you please finish this by Tuesday?” Your coworker will appreciate the candor.

2. “No big deal!”


Coworker: Can you put together a Q4 report for me?

You: Sure, no big deal!   

Helping out coworkers is great, but when you eagerly agree to each and every request without hesitation, they may assume that you have more free time than you really do. And that’s a surefire way to get way too much piled onto your plate at once. Rather than blindly obliging and sacrificing your own workload, let your colleague know you’re willing to help (if you actually are!), but give them a reasonable timeline that factors in your other priorities.

[Related: 3 Polite Ways to Turn Down Extra Work]

3. “Sorry”


“Sorry I’ve been asking so many questions lately.”

Okay, this is one that I’m absolutely guilty of. Whether I’m asking for help, made a mistake or just want somebody’s attention, “sorry” is often my go-to. But I recently saw a comic that provided a really great alternative — every time you want to say “sorry”, replace it with “thank you”. In the example above, you might want to say something like “Thank you for all of your help lately — it means a lot to me.” That way, you can express your gratitude for their patience and assistance without the unnecessary self-deprecation.

[Related: Sorry, Not Sorry! The Problem With Women & Workplace Apologies]

4. “Like”  


“We have, like, a lot of customers in the pipeline right now.”

Your sixth grade English teacher was right — saying “like” too often does make you sound a bit ditzy. A few “likes” here and there isn’t a problem, but if you struggle to get through a ten-minute presentation without saying it a couple dozen times, you might want to cut back. The first step is to just become conscious of how often you say it. Next time you’re on the phone or in a meeting, make a tick mark on a Post-it to keep tally of how often you’re saying it. You’ll be surprised how many times you’ve said it when you see the marks on the paper. Eventually, you’ll be able to catch yourself before it even happens.

5. “I just threw this together.”


“Let me walk you through this deck I just threw together really quickly.”

We often try to downplay our accomplishments in the workplace in order to avoid coming off as overly cocky. But while some degree of humility is definitely a plus, you don’t want to dismiss your efforts altogether. When it comes to your career, you have to be your own biggest advocate — because if you aren’t vocal in proving your worth, there’s no guarantee that anybody else will.

[Related: 3 Ways To Show Employers Your Value]

6. “Kind of”


“So it looks like revenue kind of decreased in the last year.”

Asserting your opinion can be intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out in your career. But wishy-washy phrases don’t do you any favors. At best, it sounds like you’re hedging your bets, and at worst, it sounds like you don’t know what you’re talking about. When you’re sure of something, declare your opinion confidently by striking the “kind of” altogether. People are much more likely to take your point of view seriously if you make it clear that you believe in what you’re saying.

7. “Actually”


Coworker: “Could you send me those images I asked for the other day?”

You: “Actually, I already sent them to you.”

The word “actually” frequently comes up when you’re trying to correct somebody, but it can often come off as a bit snarky. You can convey the exact same information you want to without rubbing a mistake in anyone’s face, though. With this example, you could simply say “Of course! I sent them to you yesterday, but let me know if you have trouble finding them.” That way, your coworker knows you didn’t drop the ball, but you don’t sound as if you’re confronting them.


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