You worked hard to get your job, and you’re probably making goals to earn a raise, promotion, or both this year. On top of presentations and sales reports and other performance indicators, much of your success on the job depends upon how you interact with your boss. You want to make a good impression and show that you’re worthy of being trusted with your job — and could be trusted to take on more responsibilities. Despite all your good intentions, a quick slip of the tongue could quickly tarnish your boss’ perception of you and make it more difficult to get along.
The language you use in the office definitely has an impact on whether your boss views you as a leader and someone to be trusted. (We’re not talking about four-letter words here, although consistent use of those probably won’t get you very far ahead, either.) “In speaking with hundreds of executives and senior leaders over the past twenty years, certain phrases consistently come up as career-limiting phrases that jeopardize one’s professional image and potential for promotion,” Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, told Forbes.
One quick mistake is likely reparable. But consistent habits with certain words and phrases will have their negative effects. “There are certain comments and questions based on negative perspectives that can set you back with your boss,” Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, told Business Insider. “If they continue unabated, these phrases can sabotage an otherwise great job.”
In general, you want to avoid vague phrases or adjectives that don’t have evidence to support them. Using the word “awesome” or other descriptors that don’t actually mean anything is an example of this, writes Georges Le Nigen, chief revenue officer for global tech company Powa. Instead, Le Nigen suggests, you want to use quantifying and objective data to describe why the deal is a great one. By saying the deal is the largest in company history and sharing how much money it will make the company, you prove its value without using words like “awesome” or “fantastic” that mean very little without context.
On top of that, there’s several other words or phrases that are good to avoid. Cut these five words and phrases from your workplace vocabulary and you’ll be on the right path to making a better impression with your boss.
If you had parents or mentors in your life who encouraged you along the way, they probably tried to help you take “I can’t” out of your vocabulary early in life. The phrase has detrimental effects in your own life, but take on new consequences when you use the phrase at work. There’s a reason that “can-do” attitudes are looked upon favorably.
Using the word “can’t” shows your lack of confidence and an unwillingness to take chances, Taylor said, neither of which will earn you any points with your boss. In a LinkedIn post where bosses tell of the worst things they’ve had employees tell them, “I can’t” makes the list. “I don’t want to hear excuses ever! We focus on hiring can-do, positive, creative employees with passion, drive and determination,” said Kuba Jewgieniew, founder and CEO of Realty ONE Group.
The word is especially detrimental if it takes the form of “I can’t work with this person.” Author Bernard Marr reminds us that interpersonal problems aren’t your boss’ issue. “You can ask your boss to help mediate a tough situation, but you don’t want to make it sound like an ultimatum,” Marr writes.
It’s good to have an optimistic attitude and look forward to successes in the future. But while hope might spring eternal in your personal goals, you don’t want to use the word with your boss.
In his post on LinkedIn, Le Nigen uses the example of saying something like “I hope we get the contract signed by tomorrow.” When you use terminology like this, he argues, it “shows basically that your level of confidence about the signature of this new contract relies more on divine intervention than careful planning and clear understanding of timelines.”
If you’re sure the contract is going to get signed, say so and explain why — you just wrapped up a call with the signee, you got confirmation from their lawyers, etc. If you’re not sure, talk about the steps taken so far and what the plan is to complete the contract.
Le Nigen notes that people who use “I hope” phrases also tend to rely heavily on “I believe” statements, too. Cut those out, and frame your conversations around facts and action plans instead of leaving your business up to the universe.
There are arguments for saying “no” to your boss — some people contend there are times when you have to put your foot down. But even that advice avoids using the word “no” outright. It’s not the same as refusing a request from your coworkers, but is just as tricky.
“Unless it’s illegal or unethical, I cannot think of a single situation where it’s a good idea to say no to your boss,” Steve Tobak, author and managing partner at Invisor Consulting, wrote in a post for Entrepreneur. “You can ask questions, push back, or negotiate, but don’t say no unless you’ve got a great resume and don’t need the job.”
If you do need to refuse a request from your boss, it’s necessary to have a well-founded explanation, Taylor told Business Insider. Explain your current workload or ask them to help you prioritize what’s on your plate, but don’t expect them to be accommodating if you answer bluntly with the negative. There are other ways to handle it, and you’ll avoid uncomfortable apologies later.
Losing is never a positive thing for a business. If you’re in sales, reporting a lost client or business deal is an especially tough thing to discuss with your superiors. Instead of using the word “lost,” quickly analyze why the deal didn’t go through so you can report what you’ve learned, not just the fact that it happened, Le Nigen writes.
“If you have to announce a lost customer or prospect, make sure you provide a solid root cause analysis and provide a recommendation to deal with those causes . It’s ok to lose sometimes, but it is not acceptable not to learn from it,” he said.
Instead of saying you’re not sure what happened or that it came out of nowhere, Le Nigen suggests getting feedback from the customer about why they didn’t choose your company, and come up with a strategy to combat that in the future. Having a game plan for the next time and finding ways to improve will show you’re committed to finding solutions, even if it’s an unpleasant conversation.
5. “That’s not my job”
Obviously this is a phrase and not just one word, but it’s one of the most detrimental things you can say to your boss. “…If your boss asks you to do something, it’s part of your job. Unless it’s something that you actually do not know how to do, it’s better to just suck it up and do it,” Marr wrote in his LinkedIn post.
In addition, using that phrase implies you don’t care about your boss or the company’s success as a whole if you’re not willing to pick up an odd job now and then. “Regardless of how inconvenient or inappropriate a request may be, it is likely important to the other person or they would not have asked,” Price told Forbes. No matter what type of company you work for, using that terminology likely means you’re not invested. “It’s critical that everyone feels invested in the success of all areas of the business. Everyone should be willing to pitch in, even if what’s required isn’t part of their normal day-to-day activities,” Robert J. Moore, co-founder and CEO of RJMetrics, said in another LinkedIn article.
If you do keep getting assigned odd jobs that are keeping you from your work priorities, Marr suggests talking with your boss about it to explain why it’s a problem. But the time to do that isn’t when you’re asked for another quick favor — approach the issue at another time. If your boss keeps asking you to do morally wrong things, you’re probably better off finding another job as soon as possible.
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS