Words spoken in the workplace have the power to either advance one’s career or push you right out the door.
Words spoken persuade and influence managers and supervisors to invest more in your career or either label you as a bad investment, negative, pessimistic, or a troublemaker.
Words spoken to management and co-workers should convey that you are a team player, dedicated, focused and can solve problems.
There are times when issues in the workplace should and must be discussed and resolved. Just remember, there are appropriate words to use when addressing touchy issues. There is a chain of command to follow and there are professional ways to solve problems. Based on my 32-year work history in private industry, here are some words or phrases that you might try to avoid if you want to keep your job.
“I can’t do that,” communicates a negative attitude from the start. A better response might be, “I’ll get back to you and see what can be done,” or “Here’s what I can do.”
“It’s not in my job description.” Well, the truth is, it might not be in your job description but telling this to your manager or co-worker displays a lack of teamwork and indicates you narrowly view your purpose and responsibility on the job and to your employer. A better response might be, “I’ll be glad to assist you; however, here is what I’m working on right now, tasks A, B and C.” Words should demonstrate you’re a problem solver and valuable resource to your company and team.
“Whatever.” Let’s say you ask your manager or supervisor about a policy or procedure you are unsure of. They proceed to explain the policy, but you disagree or are confused by their answer. “Whatever” is short for an in-your-face, calculated and painfully obvious indifference. It says you don’t care. Employers are looking for employees who do care.
“I’ll try,” when approached by management or co-worker asking you to complete a task, expresses the possibility the task might not get done, a lack of confidence or presumes possible failure. Try a more positive response like, “I’m sure we can work this out. Can we meet to discuss the timelines?” If you’re not sure how to perform a task, or you don’t have the skill or knowledge to successfully complete the task, you might say, “Sure, I’ll work on this to meet your deadline. Can we discuss some questions I have about the procedure?”
One of my all-time favorites is “But we’ve never done it that way.” This phrase always sends a message to your co-workers and management that you are stuck in the past, somewhat rigid and closed-minded. Employers are looking for innovative, new ways to move forward into the 21st century.
Saying “We’ve never done it that way” is one of the poorest, emptiest excuses I hear when fresh, novel ideas are brought forward. When a “new way” or “different method” is introduced, try and view it as “That’s an interesting approach,” or ask questions about “How exactly would that work?” Thoughtful questions about unique or different possibilities convey one’s openness to moving forward and avoids the perception that you are unwilling to try new ideas.
Words are very powerful. They can help advance one’s career and bring value or they can hinder our ability to successfully move forward with our occupation.
The proverb “A man is filled with what comes from his mouth and is nourished by what his lips provide; the tongue has power over life and death, those who like speaking will eat its fruit” ... holds just as much truth in the workplace as it does anywhere else in life.
(Editor’s Note: This guest “Viewpoint” has been contributed to the Cleveland Daily Banner by Rick Creasy, director of Workplace Development at Cleveland State Community College.)