It’s been almost two centuries since playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton first introduced the now universally accepted adage that the “pen is mightier than the sword.”
And it is indisputable that, despite all the technological advances, even in the 21st century workplace words retain considerable power. However, while much attention is paid in the world of business to the import of words placed by pen on paper or—as is the case here–on computer screens, often overlooked is the considerable power and importance of the spoken word.
I am not the first, nor I suspect the last, businessperson to note the importance of conversations in the workplace, and the potential impact that “saying the right/wrong thing” can have on a person’s business prospects. In fact, in previous postings I discussed several of the most important qualities that most businesses seek when hiring both employees and senior management; I noted then–and still believe–that regardless of the individual’s role within the company, the ability to speak well and communicate effectively is critical to his or her chances of success.
The examples of things employees could say that carry the potential to either advance–or harm–their chances to succeed in the workplace is virtually limitless. However, having been an active member of the business community for almost two decades—and as CEO of Sackett National Holdings, which employs hundreds of individuals—I’d like to offer some common sense suggestions of things that are best said, or left unsaid, in the modern workplace.
So, for what it’s worth, here are five of what I consider to be the Most Welcome—and Unwelcome—commonly used phrases in today’s workplace.
Five Most Unwelcome Workplace Phrases:
- 1) That’s Not Part of My Job: It’s entirely reasonable to wonder “why me?” when one is asked to perform a task beyond his or her normal duties, but simply stating ‘it’s not my job’ shows a lack of initiative, or even interest; it’s also a definitively negative statement that sets a similar workplace tone.
- 2) What’s The Rush?: Again, it’s not unreasonable to inquire why a particularly short deadline has been chosen, but using this phrase implies inflexibility; in business, as in life, things often change and sometimes priorities have to as well.
- 3) It’s Not My Fault AKA He (or She) Said It Was OK: Pointing fingers at other people for personal errors is never a good idea. Mistakes happen, even among the most qualified employees. Accepting responsibility for a mistake is not easy, but definitely preferable to passing the proverbial ‘buck’ to try and avoid blame.
- 4) That’s Not How (previous supervisor) Did This: Learning from past experiences is important. However, equally important is a willingness to adapt to new operational methods; suggestions on how to perform duties in a more efficient way should always be welcomed by management, but comparing a current manager to a past one is not the way to present such a suggestion.
- 5) I Can’t/Won’t Do That: On occasion, an employee may be asked to perform a task that he or she feels cannot be completed as required, and if (s)he believes that—for whatever reason–it would be better done by someone else, (s)he may choose to make that point. But context is very important, and if one chooses to refuse to complete an assigned task, it should be explained as to why that’s the case; in such cases, presenting an alterative method of completing the task is also highly desirable.
Five Most Welcomed Workplace Phrases:
- 1) How Are You Doing?: It may sound a little trite, but the simple common courtesy of showing interest in a colleague, as you would any other person, can help create a more cordial, friendly workplace; you may also be surprised how much it can mean to someone who hasn’t been asked this question for some time.
- 2) Maybe We Could Try…: Smart managers and executives usually welcome good ideas, even if they’re not their own. Putting forward practical alternatives that would increase efficiency or reduce costs shows initiative and interest, and most often will be seen by managers as such.
- 3) Would You Like Some Help?: Offering unsolicited assistance to either a colleague or supervisor is not only a display of common courtesy (which is unfortunately not as “common” as it once was) but shows a willingness to work towards the benefit of others, without expecting anything in return.
- 4) You Know, It’s His Birthday/Anniversary: Often, the thoughtful gesture of simply remembering–and acknowledging–an important date in a colleague’s life can mean a great deal to him/her; you spend much of your year working alongside workplace colleagues, so why not help create a collegial environment whenever possible?
- 5) I Couldn’t Have Done It Without…: A willingness to share kudos, and compliments, for workplace accomplishments shows not only magnanimity, but a spirit of teamwork that is highly valued in most companies
As you can see, most of these workplace phrases—both welcome and unwelcome—are really just a matter of common sense and courtesy; just remember to always think before you speak because—whether written or spoken—words always matter.