10 phrases to stall your ca­reer

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - CAREERS - COLLEEN COATES

YOUR so­cial skills can open doors or slam them shut. Whether deal­ing with cus­tomers, co-work­ers or your boss, the words you choose and how you frame your mes­sage in­flu­ences the way peo­ple per­ceive you. The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a prob­lem-solver or a prob­lem is as sim­ple as the words you choose. It is not what you in­tended those words to mean, it really is the words you choose.

Proper word us­age can be a pow­er­ful tool that shapes how peo­ple feel about you. Us­ing the cor­rect words also pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to want to lis­ten to you and hear what you have to say. Too of­ten busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tion is filled with ex­tra words that just fill space, mix up the in­tended mes­sage or are neg­a­tive and un­pro­duc­tive.

In an in­for­mal poll of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­perts and ca­reer ad­vis­ers, th­ese 10 phrases were voted the worst things to say in your ca­reer:

“That’s not my job.” This state­ment is about what you can’t do as op­posed to what you can do. Mak­ing this state­ment im­plies you are not a team player and speaks vol­ume about your in­flex­i­bil­ity and will­ing­ness to learn new skills. Next time try “That’s not my area of ex­per­tise. I know some­one who can get that done for you.”

“I think . . .” This state­ment is right up there with “I be­lieve” and “I feel.” Th­ese phrases dis­count what­ever you say next and your opin­ion may not be viewed as valid. A bet­ter ap­proach is of­ten to sim­ply drop the “I think” and fin­ish your thought. “This is the best ap­proach” is a much stronger state­ment than “I think this is the best ap­proach.” A sim­i­lar ap­proach can be taken with words such as “I want” or I’d like to.” Again drop th­ese filler words and make your state­ment, turn­ing “I’d like to thank you” into “Thank you.”

“I don’t know.” While this may be an hon­est an­swer, you’re tak­ing the easy way out. Use of this phrase can por­tray you as lazy and un­will­ing to help out. Next time, say “Good ques­tion. Let me find out the an­swer” so you are seen as a prob­lem solver.

“I can’t.” Again this im­plies your un­will­ing­ness to try some­thing new, be help­ful or even part of the so­lu­tion. Next time, if you are asked to at­tend a meet­ing where you have a con­flict, in­stead of say­ing “I can’t,” say “I cur­rently have a con­flict at that time; how­ever, I will do my best to move that ap­point­ment.”

“But . . .” The use of this com­pletely wipes out any­thing you’ve said just prior to this. For ex­am­ple “Your new suit looks great, but you may want to change the tie colour.”

We are con­di­tioned to al­ways lis­ten for the neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion. As a man­ager you’ve prob­a­bly been coached at some point to use the “sand­wich ap­proach” when giv­ing feed­back — that’s say some­thing nice, then some­thing neg­a­tive, fol­low­ing by some­thing nice. This ap­proach can soften the neg­a­tive and the last thing heard is a pos­i­tive. Some­times “but” is eas­ily re­placed with “and,” which soft­ens the mes­sage as well.

“That’s not a good idea.” If you are look­ing to shut down a dis­cus­sion, just say th­ese words. Peo­ple usu­ally do not re­spond well to this phrase. Next time you hear some­thing that you be­lieve to be a poor idea, sim­ple ask “How would that work?”

“I’ll try.” Try­ing im­plies you won’t nec­es­sary get the task ac­com­plished. You are set­ting the stage to im­ply that you may fail. So the next time your boss asks you to get some work done be­fore the end of the day and you re­spond “I’ll try,” don’t be sur­prised when you are passed over for that next big as­sign­ment. A bet­ter ap­proach would be to com­mit to some­thing you can achieve such as “I’ll have it on your desk by 5 p.m.”

“It wasn’t my fault.” This is a di­ver­sion tac­tic sure to back­fire on you. If some­one asks what hap­pened and you re­spond with this phrase, or even worse sug­gest who made the er­ror or blame it on a pre­de­ces­sor, you will not be set­ting your­self in the best pos­si­ble light. What your man­ager wants to hear is “I’ll in­ves­ti­gate what hap­pened and get back to you” or “I can see what hap­pened here and here is what I’ll put in place to be sure it doesn’t hap­pen again.”

“I guess.” This phrase puts you on the fence. It’s a non-com­mit­tal method used that re­flects a lack of con­fi­dence. So the next time you are asked “Do you think this will work?” in­stead of say­ing “I guess,” say “It looks like it will work. How will this im­pact our other project?” This way you are seen as pos­i­tive, yet you have ex­pressed your con­cern that can then be ad­dressed by the per­son de­liv­er­ing the ques­tion.

“That’s im­pos­si­ble.” You may as well pack up your desk and search for a dif­fer­ent ca­reer if you make this state­ment. This shows that you are not will­ing to try and shuts down all pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sions. A more pos­i­tive way to ex­press your con­cerns would be to say “In­ter­est­ing. Let’s look at some other meth­ods and see if there are some al­ter­na­tives to con­sider.”

If your boss, men­tor, ca­reer coach or other per­son you re­spect has ever told you that you need to im­prove your com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, heed their ad­vice and make it your pri­or­ity.

Ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills will ap­pear on al­most ev­ery job post­ing and even if it is not, it is of­ten im­plied.

This could be the one skill that holds you back from at­tain­ing that pro­mo­tion or se­cur­ing that new job. Ev­ery hir­ing man­ager or re­cruiter is lis­ten­ing care­fully to how you speak.


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