What NOT To Say: Decoding Common Phrases & Sayings In The Workplace


Navigating any workplace can be a complicated task.

How we carry ourselves – through body language, work email, and managing professional relationships with colleagues and supervisors – all play a significant role in establishing a leadership role within the company environment.

Collaborating with a group of people can be a complicated process. Managing each other’s work styles while trying to maintain a leadership role can be quite stressful. One poorly phrased question or piece of criticism and suddenly egos are bruised and the group dynamic falls apart.

It is critical then, when working with a group, to think about how we phrase our questions, concerns and comments – to elicit the best response not only that you’re looking for, but that develops positive relationships and makes you look good in the eyes of your peers and superiors. That is why TalentEgg has created a list of phrases commonly heard in the workforce, and the substitutes that put a positive spin on what you’re really saying.

“I’m too busy” = “I’d be happy to discuss this with you later in the day”

When dealing with different co-workers (especially in different departments), always remember that both parties are trying to achieve a goal. If you’re busy, don’t of flat out deny a colleague’s attempt to run something by you.

Letting them you’ll be with them right after morning meetings is a hint in of itself. They’ll appreciate that despite your busy schedule, you will still make the time to see to their needs. As an added bonus to this phrase, consider adding a definitive time at the end, such as “will you be available at three? I’ll come by your office then.”

“I think” = “I am confident”

Responding with “I think” when asked for an opinion on a topic, has an indecisive ring to it. A lot of people tack on these phrases to their statements as a preventative measure, in case they’re wrong about it down the road.

It’s important to be confident in your statements, especially if you know what you’re talking about. “I think” can give the impression that you don’t fully understand the situation, even if it’s the right info. Changing “I think” to “I am confident” doesn’t just add an air of authority, but keeps the personal jargon at home.

“I’ll try” = “I will”

This phrase is often used for the same reasons as “I think” or “I believe” – people are afraid of investing in their own opinions, for fear that they might be proven wrong down the line. However, hearing the phrase “I’ll try” is usually a huge pet-peeve for employers. After all, they hired you to do a job, not to try and do a job.

Saying “I’ll try” carries with it the notion that you aren’t necessarily capable of completing your tasks. Responding with “I will” not only lends an air of self-confidence, but leaves the employer with a sense that everything’s in good hands and that there’s no need to worry.

“There’s nothing I can do” = “Let me work at it some more”

There’s nothing employers hate more than a defeatist attitude. Not only is it counterproductive, but pessimistic attitudes can be easily spread throughout a team. Don’t be one of those people who would rather complain than solve their own problems.

Instead of telling your boss you can’t do something, show them you can think outside the box by telling them you’ll try a different approach. Flexibility and the stamina to continue when instant success isn’t achieved is a great asset to have in any job.

“Why didn’t you…” = “I recommend…”

Not only are you playing the blame game by using this phrase, it sounds quite aggressive. Telling a colleague “they should have” done something differently, is a surefire way to make them feel cornered and put a damper on any existing relationship.

Using the phrase “next, time try,” acknowledges a mistake was made, but also that mistakes are bound to happen and you’re willing to help them move past it. In a supervisory role, the phrase “I recommend,” gives the employee the sense that you’re passing down information gained from experience, and that you care about their success.

“It’s always been done this way” = “Let’s try it out”

Change can be a good thing, especially within a company that is looking for better results. An organization (especially a growing one) will have different needs during different stages, so it’s important to be open to the idea that the processes you have in place now might not be the best way to go.

Telling a new colleague “it’s always been done this way,” not only starts things off on the wrong foot in terms of your professional relationship, but it signifies that you might be opposed to change that is needed. Becoming too comfortable in a job can cause you to become stagnant on the career ladder.

Which workplace phrase is your biggest pet-peeve? Tell us below!