A few poorly chosen words in the workplace can damage an employee’s reputation and cripple his/her career. Even smart, well-meaning employees sometimes say the wrong things. Among the thoughts never to voice at work…
1. “Looks like I’m working late again.” Employees often are eager to be seen as hard workers who put in long hours—particularly in tough economies such as this one, when layoffs seem to lurk around every corner. While showing up early and working late can indeed further your career, talking about doing so could hold you back. When you verbalize that you’re putting in long hours, you risk giving the impression that you’re complaining about your workload or that you’re struggling to get your work done. That might lead a boss to view you as ungrateful or as a potential burnout candidate. And it might dissuade your employer from seeing you as a candidate for promotion—if you’re struggling to keep up in your current job, how could you possibly handle more responsibility?
2. “I’ll get to it when I can.” Avoid saying anything that might be interpreted as questioning an assignment’s importance—even if you don’t think it is a high priority. The project might be a higher priority for the person with whom you are speaking than you realize. Even if it isn’t, you risk giving the impression that you don’t take the assignment seriously.
3. “I can do it better alone.” Employees sometimes say things such as this in hopes of seeming self-sufficient or in hopes of avoiding working closely with a colleague they don’t like. But telling a boss that you work best alone can lead to a career-damaging “poor team player” reputation.
If you are assigned a teammate you simply cannot work with effectively, express your reservations in terms of the company’s goals, not personal feelings about this person. Example: Point out that this teammate has a lot on his plate already, and say that you would be happy to tackle this task alone if it would help the company.
4. “I did it.” Most workplace victories are team victories. Failing to share the credit with colleagues and underlings who contributed reduces the odds that they will work as hard for you in the future. That doesn’t mean you should give away all the credit or downplay your role—just that when you accept thanks, you also should mention and praise the specific roles played by others.
5. “The way I’ve always done it works just fine.” If you voice resistance to new ideas without giving them a shot, you risk being viewed as someone unwilling to embrace any change. From there, it’s only a short hop to being seen as obsolete and thus dispensable. Justifiably or not, older workers are particularly likely to be stuck with this label.
Instead, express enthusiasm for exploring new methods and technologies when they are suggested. Voice your doubts only after the idea has been attempted or at least analyzed in greater depth. As long as you initially express enthusiasm for a new idea, you later can question it without seeming hostile to change.
If you do later raise reservations, frame them in terms of specific company goals, not personal preferences. Example: “It’s an interesting approach that was worth exploring, but the results seem to suggest that it’s detracting from our department’s turnaround time.”
Source: Alan Axelrod, PhD, a leadership and communications consultant based in Atlanta who has worked with organizations ranging from Siemens AG to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Writing under the pseudonym Jack Griffin, he is author of How to Say It: Be Indispensable at Work (Prentice Hall).