Thursday, January 12, 2017

Things Not to Say

Phrases smart people don’t use in conversation. There’s no taking them back once they slip out. Often it’s the subtle remarks that paint us as incompetent and unconfident, and do the most damage. These LinkedIn blog posts from Travis Bradberry tend to periodically repeat the same themes, so I’ve combined two of them.
We’ve all said things people interpreted differently than we thought they would. Verbal slip-ups occur because we say things without knowledge of the subtle implications they carry. We lack awareness because we’re so focused on what we’re going to say next – and how what others say affects us – that we completely lose sight of other people.
This is a problem because people are so complicated. You can’t hope to understand someone until you focus ALL your attention in their direction. Avoid using these phrases at all costs:
“You look tired.” Instead say “Is everything okay?” Instead of assuming someone’s disposition, just ask. You’ll be seen as concerned instead of rude.
“You always…” or “You never…” Makes people defensive and closed off. Better: “You do this often enough for me to notice.”
“As I said before…” Everyone forgets. Sounds like you’re insulted to have to repeat yourself (or you’re patting yourself on the back for being the first with the idea). Being insulted over having to repeat yourself suggests you are either insecure or you think you are better than everyone else (or both). Instead when you say it again, see what you can do to convey the message in a more clear and interesting way.
“Good luck.” Implies you think they’ll need luck to succeed. You can do better. Instead: “I know you have what it takes.” Encourage, don’t tear down. You will stand out.
“It’s up to you” or “Whatever you want.” You may not care, but your opinion may be important to the person asking the question. Instead: ”I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but a couple of things to consider are…” When you offer an opinion it shows that you care.
“Well at least I never…” An aggressive way to shift attention away from your mistake by pointing out an old, likely irreverent mistake the other person made (that you should’ve already forgiven and forgotten). Instead say “I’m sorry.” Own up to your mistakes.
“Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight” Another possibly well-meaning compliment that creates the impression you’re being critical. Telling someone they lost a lot of weight suggests they used to look fat or unattractive. Instead say “you look fantastic.” This takes the past out of the picture.
“You were too good for her anyway.” This implies your friend has bad taste and made a poor choice in the first place. Instead say “Her loss!” This provides the same support and optimism without any implied criticism.
“You look great for your age.” Comes across as condescending and rude. Instead say “You look great.” Genuine compliments don’t need qualifiers.
“This is the way it’s always been done.” Change happens so fast that even a six month old process may be outdated. Makes you sound lazy and resistant to change.
“It’s not my fault.” It is never a good idea to cast blame. Be accountable. If not offer an objective, dispassionate explanation of what happened. Stick to the facts and let your boss and colleagues draw their own conclusions.  
“I can’t.” To others it means “I won’t.” Suggests you’re not willing to do what it takes to get the job done. Instead offer an alternative. Say what you can do.
“It’s not fair.” Say such suggests you think life is supposed to be fair. You look immature and naïve. Stick to the facts and stay constructive. Leave your interpretation out of it.
“That’s not in my job description.” Makes you sound as though you’re only willing to do the bare minimum. If you think you’re being asked to do something inappropriate for your position, the best move is to complete the task eagerly. Later schedule a conversation with your boss to discuss your role with the company, and whether your job description needs an update.
“I’m going to ask a stupid question” or “This may be a silly idea.” These overly passive phrases erode your credibility and suggest you lack confidence.  
“I’ll try.” Suggests you lack confidence to complete the task. Sounds like you won’t try that hard. Yoda said “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
“This will only take a minute.” Don’t make it sound as though the task can be completed any sooner than it can be actually finished.
“I hate this job.”  Labels you as negative. Brings down morale. There are always enthusiastic replacements waiting just around the corner.
“He’s lazy / incompetent / a jerk.” No upside to saying this. If it’s true everyone already knows. If not, you’re the one who looks like a jerk. If you don’t have the power to help them improve or fire them, you have nothing to gain by broadcasting their ineptitude. Doing so comes across as an insecure attempt to make you look better.

"Happy XXth birthday." Don't remind people how old they are. It's rude. They know. They might be having a hard time dealing with it. Don't make it worse.  
RECAP: in everyday conversation, it’s the little things that make all the difference.

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