Things you should never say at work
- Work etiquette varies from company to company, but there are some things you should never wear or say.
- While we all know not to say offensive, harassing, or profane things at work, there are some lesser-known business etiquette rules that are universal.
- GQ editor and former business etiquette columnist Ross McCammon spoke to Business Insider about what not to say at work.
Unless you’re Michael Scott from “The Office,” you know not to say offensive, harassing, or profane things at work. But there are some lesser-known verbal etiquette rules for the office that are just as universal.
Business Insider spoke with Ross McCammon, an editor at GQ, former business etiquette columnist at Entrepreneur Magazine, and author of “Works Well with Others: An Outsider’s Guide to Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, Handling Jerks, and Other Crucial Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You.”
One of the major topics he tackles in his book is balance, he said. “Where is the line between the right thing to say and the wrong thing?”
McCammon stressed the importance of assuming authority at work, which he defines in his book as the ability to “claim knowledge of something, without apology” and “express yourself clearly and without hemming or hawing.”
You want to use your words to convey that you’re someone who takes action without losing sight of gratitude, self-awareness, groundedness, or warmth, he wrote.
With that goal in mind, here are 13 things you should never say at work (that most people don’t know):
1. ‘I think you’re overthinking this.’
“I would like to ban ‘I think you’re overthinking this’ from the canon of common workplace expressions,” McCammon wrote in his book. “It punishes people for caring, for trying to make something great. I think that people who accuse other people of overthinking just don’t feel like thinking. Which is thoughtless.”
2. ‘I’m sorry.’
“You can say, ‘I understand this was wrong, and it won’t happen again.’” he wrote. “But consider leaving the apologies to your personal life. Apologies are purely emotional. Acknowledging the problem and saying how you will correct it is a lot more professionally valuable.”
McCammon said his advice on this has changed a bit since 2016, when the book was published.
“My thinking on this has evolved a little,” he told Business Insider. “Let’s say you interrupted someone in a meeting, derailing a big pitch to the boss. That’s something you should apologize for. I think men are waking up to the fact that we tend to do this in meetings — to women especially — and it’s not cool, and it requires an apology.”
3. ‘Does that make any sense?’
“People like to ask this after making a point,” McCammon wrote. “If you have to ask this, then you either are not confident in what you just said or you don’t know what you just said and you are now asking the person listening to your nonsense to validate it.”
In short, it can make you sound wimpy. It’s better to be confident and avoid undermining or minimizing yourself and your work.
Instead, ask, “What are your thoughts?” career coach Sophia Mohr suggested.
4. ‘It is what it is.’
“Yes, but what is it?” McCammon wrote. “If you take this idea to its natural conclusion you will end up smoking a cigarette while jumping off a cliff. We must all resolve to stop saying this. It means nothing. It is a mantra for idiots.”
5. ‘I feel.’
McCammon is adamant about this. “You may think at work,” he wrote, “But you may not feel.”
The phrase a silence-filler that communicates doubt about your work and yourself. Instead, try “I believe” or “I’m certain.”
Shaunna Keller, head of digital and social at national advertising agency Brand Content, told BestLife, “It could be the most informed opinion out there, but it’s interpreted as what YOU personally want and almost nobody cares about your personal feelings — they care about what the people they are creating the work for care about, want, need, desire.”
6. Berating a subordinate in front of others.
“In fact, no berating ever,” McCammon wrote. “Also: No berets.”
Yelling at a colleague in front of others is a form of public shaming, which amplifies humiliation. Don’t do it, ever.
7. ‘I’m late because … ‘
“If you don’t explain that you overslept, there still exists the possibility that you’ve spent the last thirty minutes cradling an injured bird in your hands,” he wrote. Instead, try saying nothing. “Discretion is a virtue. The most underrated tactic in the workplace is silence.”
8. ‘Please stop crying’ or ‘There’s no need to cry’
“Understand that crying is part of an important physical response to stress that makes us feel better,” McCammon wrote. “As intense and sad as it appears, crying is the beginning of feeling better. And so let them cry. … You don’t want to suppress it.”
9. Ending a statement with the phrase ‘and stuff.’
This “nullifies the statement’s impact and substance,” McCammon wrote.
10. ‘I’m swamped/slammed/overloaded/being pulled in all directions.’
“Unless of course you are literally in a swamp or being slammed, overloaded, or pulled in all directions,” he wrote.
If you put yourself in the listener’s shoes, you’ll find you’re probably making them feel less than important when you say you’re “too busy.”
11. Never ‘float’ an idea.
“Launch it, push it into the stream, yell at it with a bullhorn until it scowls at you,” he wrote.
12. Don’t bad-mouth your current client.
Or any client, for that matter.
13. ‘Well … ‘
“Never start off a sentence with ‘Well … ’” McCammon wrote. “Leave ‘well’ to the airline pilots (‘Well, folks, we just heard from the tower, and it’s a total s— show’).” He added, “Nothing good has ever come after the word ‘well.’”