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11 things smart people never say at work

No matter how talented you are or what you have accomplished, there are certain phrases that can change the way others perceive you, and leave you in the shadows forever.

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There are certain things that should never be said at work, phrases that carry a special power: to make you look bad, even if what you are saying is correct. And the worst part is that, once you say them, there is no way to retract it.

I'm not talking about mistakes in vocabulary, or bad jokes, or even politically incorrect things, because these are not the only ways to look bad.

Usually the things that hurt us the most are the most subtle, the things that make us seem incompetent and insecure.

No matter how talented you are or what you've accomplished, there are certain phrases that can immediately change the way others perceive you , condemning you to live in the shadows forever. They are phrases so loaded with negative implications that they can end your professional career .

How many of these race-killer phrases have you heard in your office lately?

1. "It's not fair"

Everyone knows that life isn't fair, and saying otherwise suggests that you think it is, which makes you seem immature and naive.

If you don't want to look bad, you need to stick to the facts, be constructive, and leave your interpretations out of the game. For example, you could say: “I saw that you assigned Ana a project that I was hoping to work on. Could you tell me what factors you took into account for that decision? I would like to know why I did not have to do it, to improve on that and that you can consider me for the next one ”.

2. "This is how we have always done things"

The changes derived from new technologies are happening so fast that there are processes that are new today and in six months they are already obsolete. Saying that this is the way you've always done things not only makes you seem lazy and reluctant to change, it will make your boss wonder why you haven't tried to improve things before. If you are doing things the way they have always been done, there is certainly a better way to do them.

3. "No problem"

This phrase, if you say it when someone asks you to do something or you like it for having done something, it implies that their request should have been a problem. This makes people feel like they are being an imposition.

Ideally, show people that you enjoy doing your job. Say something like "Nice to do it" or "We'll be happy to figure it out." It's a very subtle difference, but it has a huge impact on people.

4. “This may be a silly idea” or “I'm going to ask a silly question”

These hyper passive phrases destroy your credibility instantly. Even if you come up with a wonderful idea later, starting with this suggests that you lack confidence in yourself, causing the people around you to lose their confidence in you.

Don't be your worst critic. If you don't trust what you're saying, no one else will. And if you don't know something, you can say: "At this moment I don't have the information, but I do my research and come back to you."

5. "I'll do it in a minute"

Saying what you can do in a minute degrades your skills and gives the impression that you are rushing. Unless you can finish that task in less than 60 seconds, verbatim, don't say it. You can say that it won't take too long, or that you deliver it as soon as possible, but don't make it seem like it will take you less time than it actually takes to do it.

6. "I'm going to try"

The word 'try' sounds tentative and suggests that you don't trust your ability to get things done. Take responsibility for your abilities, own what you can do. If they ask you to do something, commit to doing or offer an alternative, but don't say you're going to try it because it sounds like you're not going to try very hard.

7. "Such a person is lazy / incompetent / idiot"

Nothing good can come out of making a negative comment about a partner, even if what you say is correct, chances are that other people already know, so there is no need to point it out. And if you are not right, then you are the one who looks like an idiot.

There will always be rude or incompetent people in all jobs, and most likely everyone has identified them. If you cannot help them to improve, and it is not your decision that they remain in the company, then you do not gain anything by exhibiting their ineptitude, because by doing so you give the impression of looking for failures in others to make up your own failures. And this lack of sensitivity will work against you, because your colleagues will form a negative opinion of you.

8. "That does not correspond to me"

This phrase makes others think that you are only willing to make the minimum of effort for your salary, something quite negative if you want to keep your job and grow within the company.

If your boss asks you to do something that is not within your tasks (as long as it is something legal and moral), the best thing is to do it, and do it well. You can then talk to your boss and discuss your duties or job description, to see if you need to add new ones (and discuss a possible raise). Doing so will make you see yourself as enthusiastic and motivated, willing and cooperative, rather than a tantrum or capricious person. It will also help develop a better relationship with your boss in the long term.

9. "It's not my fault"

Trying to blame someone else is never a good idea. Take responsibility. If you had something to do, however minimal, in what went wrong, you are responsible. And in case you are not, then offer an objective and dispassionate explanation of what happened. Stick to the facts, and let your boss and your colleagues draw their own conclusions about who is to blame.

The moment you start pointing out guilty is the moment when people begin to perceive you as a person who does not know how to take charge of their responsibilities, and this makes people nervous. There will be those who avoid working with you, and others will blame you every time something goes wrong.

10. "I can't"

Generally, people don't like to hear that you can't because what they understand is that you don't want to. Saying 'you can't' suggests that you are unwilling to do whatever it takes for the job.

If you really can't do something because you don't have the skills to do it, offer an alternative. Instead of saying you can't, say what you can do. For example, instead of saying "I can't stay later" say "I can get there earlier tomorrow, does that work for you?" Or instead of "I can't get that report out" say "I still don't know how to do that analysis, is there someone who can teach me to do it myself next time?"

11. "I hate this job"

The last thing you want to hear in the office is someone complaining about how much they hate their job. Doing so labels you as a negative person and lowers group morale. Bosses quickly realize who are the negative elements that are affecting the morale of their teams, and they know that there are always more enthusiastic people who could replace them.


Eliminating these phrases from your vocabulary will bring you many benefits. These phrases tend to stick to us almost like fillers, so you'll have to pay close attention to detect and avoid them until you've gotten into the habit of not saying them.

A version of this article first appeared on

Travis Bradberry

Written By

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the bestselling author of The Seagull Manager and a LinkedIn Influencer with more than 2.5 million followers. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Harvard Business Review.