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Let’s Stop

Four Phrases We Should Stop Using At Work


Sometimes when we’re trying to make things better, we find things to add. Today I’m offering a suggestion of phrases we could remove from our workspaces in an attempt to make them even better.


1. Random acts of kindness

In practice, I’m not at all opposed to random acts of kindness. I’ve been the recipient of a free cup of coffee, a kind word or a smile from a stranger, and who knows how many other “random” acts of kindness in my lifetime.

But in the workspace, what if we made them intentional acts of kindness? What if instead of, occasionally, when some local radio station reminds us to be nice to each other, we actively set out to perform intentional acts of kindness every day, every week? Be the one who refills the printer tray, the one who holds the door for someone whose arms are full, the one who lets someone else have a turn first. These are all things we can do intentionally that help others have better workdays. What if we thought in advance to wish someone a happy birthday, or a happy Tuesday, or a happy anniversary of your employment? Instead of random, those would be on their actual birthday or anniversary, etc. What if we took the time to ask people about how their kids are doing or how their most recent vacation was when they come back after being gone? Those simple acts might demonstrate to someone else that we care.


To clarify – I’m advocating not for random acts of kindness but intentional acts of kindness that we can commit to in the workplace. Let’s make a list and commit. By creating intentional acts of kindness, we can help others, model good behaviors that will spread, and co-create kinder communities. When we are intentional about things, we create habits. And isn’t being kind a nice thing to get in the habit of? 


2. I’m sorry but...

Let me be clear here, I am not opposed to apologies. In fact, I think saying “I’m sorry” is a powerful way to demonstrate humility, accountability, and genuine relationship building. Here’s the problem with the phrase “I’m sorry, but…” - that one little word: “but”. Those three letters negate everything that came before them. In the phrase, for example, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”, the “but” signals that I’m about to be rude anyway. In the phrase “I mean no disrespect, but…” I’m signaling that I’m actually going to be disrespectful.

 The same goes for “I’m sorry, but”. The “but” signals that I’m not actually sorry or taking any accountability for my actions. In fact, I’m probably about to push my wrongdoing back on someone else instead of actually acknowledging the impact of my behavior (whether it was intended or not) and expressing regret or empathy. 


Instead of shifting blame, we should simply accept accountability. Instead of “I’m sorry, but the printer was jammed”, if we accepted accountability, the sentence might look like “I’m sorry I waited until the last minute to print.”


What’s the benefit here? By demonstrating accountability, we are avoiding finger-pointing, and we’re modeling behaviors that help others take accountability for their own actions. We’re even  potentially adopting a growth mindset to avoid getting into this spot in the future.


3. That’s not my job

I can’t be the only one who is deeply frustrated by this particular expression. Let’s strike it entirely from our workplace vocabularies! Does something need to be done? Instead of saying “that’s not my job,” what if we said, “how can I help?”


Trash on the floor? Pick it up and toss it in the garbage.


Someone needs to fill Greg in on the conversation that happened while he was out sick? Pick up the phone and call Greg (or if Greg prefers to communicate via email, click “New Message” in Outlook).


Morale flagging because of a heavy workload, a busy season, or discouraging news? Create a bright spot, bring in snacks, offer a moment of levity or encouragement.


You could even take this as far as to say it’s my job to fix my own attitude so as not to bring others down. Since we co-create our own workspaces, if I’m giving off the noise, drama, complaining, and garbage that comes from letting myself wallow in a bad day, I’m going to create clouds of noise, drama, complaining, and garbage around me. Creating workplace culture–and honestly creating even the environment in which we operate– really is everyone’s job. You and your team spend a lot of time in the office or logged on; make it a nice place to be. 


4. Don’t you agree?

This last one is a bit of a slippery rock. I’ve heard it several times lately, with slightly different wording, but the gist is posing a leading question that shuts down diversity of thought. If I start a sentence with, “Don’t you agree that…” I am making it harder for you to raise objections, concerns, risks, or a different perspective.


We should be celebrating our differences! The conversations that so many organizations and teams are having in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion tells us that we need to value and open the door for perspectives that are different from our own. If I’m leading with, “don’t you agree”, I am reducing the likelihood of honest conversation. Instead of “don’t you agree,” let’s try more open, inviting expressions, such as, “What do you think?” Or “How do you see it?” Or “I’d like to hear your perspective.”


So there you have it, four phrases we should stop using at work.

Maybe we won’t eliminate these phrases entirely, but since we all know that words really do matter, I encourage us to stop and think about these particular combinations of words and how we can reduce them to keep making workdays even better around us.


What would you add? Join the conversation in the comments below or on social media!



Topics: YP, Sinikka Waugh, Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com





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