Say This, Not That: Office Space Edition

Let’s face it: the famous How to Win Friends and Influence People is helpful in figuring out workplace relations, but helpful how the 1954 version of the DMV written test is helpful to driving in 2015. You need practical, updated, and relevant help.

No blog post, no 500 words will cure all your workplace woes, but they can make you feel more comfortable with your career identity.

Here are 5 commonly used phrases in the workplace that you should retire from your vocabulary and what to say instead:


1. What NOT to say: “No problem”

What to say instead: “you’re welcome”, “I’m glad to help”, “happy to be of assistance”

Your friend in a different department sends you a document to copyedit as a favor, and even though you are busy, you take the time to edit it. When they say “thank you”, you respond without thinking: “no problem.”

But what does that phrase even mean? First, it assumes you think that the other person thinks that you think it is a problem. There’s some nifty mental game theory. Second, it comes across as flippant or casual.

Realistically, you helping was not a problem, but it did require you sacrificing time or doing a task (even if the task is within your job description). A pleasant “you’re welcome” is more appropriate and sounds more professional.

2. What NOT to say: “I’m not eating carbs.”

What to say instead: “No thank you,” when it is a response to an offer. Or nothing if you are the one bringing up the conversation.

Maybe it comes across as militant to unilaterally say that people should stop talking about diets at work, but people really need to stop talking about diets at work. It’s a 9am meeting and the person in front of you offers a donut. Saying “no thank you” or “thanks, I appreciate it but I already ate” is perfectly acceptable. There is no reason to explain that you aren’t eating carbs, are trying to lose 8 pounds before September, that you think gluten affects your digestive tract or that your pants are too tight.

Discussing diets is an insidious habit because it keeps you from discussing topics that really matter: current events, that great TED talk you listened to, what that latest industry news means to your company. Even if you are preoccupied with your diet, don’t let everyone in the office know. You don’t need to be known as Kate who doesn’t eat carbs and loves Diet Coke. Be known as Kate who can do awesome cost-benefit analysis.

3. What NOT to say: “Can you...?”

What to say instead: “Can you….please?”

One word difference, one syllable strain in your speech, one massive difference.

Please and thank you are enormous game-changers. Believe me that the receptionist in your office responds differently to “photocopy this now” and “please photocopy this now.” Being on the lowest ring of the company ladder is difficult enough without common courtesy being extended.

Make it your goal to include please in all your requests, questions, and interactions. Being polite is underrated.

4. What NOT to say: “You really [insert expletive] this up. I can’t [insert expletive] believe that. [insert expletive] I spilled my coffee”

What to say: I’m frustrated that this project wasn’t finished on time.

This is the 21st century, you’re whining, “If I want to use the F word, I will. No one can say I’m not a good employee because I cussed. I still get my work done.”

That’s right, you do get your work done. But if you work at a bank, and an elderly very conservative client walks in and you are known for sprinkling F bombs, you won’t get assigned to her. Whether your work place is conservative or not, or even if your boss cusses or not, you do not want to be considered the “office loose cannon”.

Cuss all you want after 5pm and on weekends. But cuss too much at work, and you won’t have an [insert expletive] chance of being selected on certain projects.

5. What NOT to say: “I want a raise of 10%.”

What to say: “the past 6 months I have increased sales in my department by 15%

and bolstered my team’s morale. I would love to discuss my pay with you because I think my performance is a strong indicator we should reevaluate my current salary.”

You want a pay raise. Money is good. But knocking on the door and saying, “hey boss, I want a raise” or even worse “I need a raise” is ridiculous from the employer’s perspective. Wants and needs are your feelings disconnected from your work.

Your portfolio the past 6 months, your history of being an overachiever, delivering outstanding results and pleasing clients is your evidence in your case to earn a raise.

Don’t make all pay negotiations about your wants and needs. Understand that entitlement is one word that repulses every supervisor in America.

Getting told what NOT to say isn’t about waggling a finger. I wish sometime had told me not to wear 3 colors (pink, yellow and green, for your information) of eyes shadow on one eye in 7th grade. But no one did. Learn from what not to say, focus on advancing in your current position, and by honing in on your job skills, you will find yourself more satisfied with your position.

But hey, if you don’t like this article? No problem. Someone did.

- Chessa Sanders