Words matter more than you might think, especially if you are one of the 43% of employees who works remotely. If coworkers or your manager can’t see your body language, they have to rely solely on conversations you have over email or the phone, and certain phrases could cost you a promotion, says Crystal Barnett, senior human resource specialist for Insperity, an HR service provider for small to medium-sized organizations.
“While most of us manage to avoid making comments that result in a punishable offense, some common phrases can hurt your chances for advancement in the long run,” she says. “You have to chose words carefully to get your point across without being negative or self serving.”
Here are eight words and phrases that can derail your career if they’re uttered at the wrong place or time:
1. “Honestly …”
Starting a sentence with the word “honestly” when speaking about others can come off as an attack, and it’s one of the easiest ways to damage your career, says Barnett. “Telling a trusted boss how one truly feels is expected and encouraged at many companies,” she says. “However, in some organizations, giving an unvarnished assessment can be dangerous if done without careful consideration beforehand.”
Using the word “honestly” before offering a critique of another team member’s work in a public setting, for example, can damage your relationship. It can also create the impression that you’re willing to promote yourself by attacking others.
“Only use ‘honestly’ when it applies to you,” says Barnett.
2. “I think”
When you use the phrase “I think,” you immediately lose credibility, says Barnett. “‘I know’ or ‘Based on my experience my recommendation would be’ are much stronger,” she says. “In our world if you don’t know you lose credibility. It can demonstrate your weakness in certain environments.”
Taking credit for your work can be like walking a fine line of what’s appropriate. Instead, always defer to the team when sharing your success, says Barnett.
“It’s better to see ‘I’ in context of we,” she says. “For example, ‘I was part of a team that accomplished this.’ You can use ‘I’ and give yourself credit for being part of team, but touting yourself alone comes across as being arrogant and most companies don’t find that appealing.”
4. “Yeah, but…”
If you’re given an instruction or request from a supervisor or manager that leaves you with questions or concerns, starting your response with “Yeah, but” could come off as being combative.
“Asking clarifying questions or proactively identifying issues is not a bad thing,” says Barnett. “However, doing so in a negative-sounding way suggests an unwillingness to follow instruction or, worse yet, a challenge to a leader’s authority.”
Avoid the phrase altogether. If you need to revise the request, start by saying, “I understand your point of view. Let me provide you with another perspective of what we can accomplish,” suggests Barnett.
“This shows that you’re open to listening and you want to following instructions,” she says. “Offering different perspective is a much better way to get that out.”
“Just” can be a loaded word in some contexts, says Barnett. “For example, if a manager says to an employee ‘I just want you to finish those reports before the end of the week,’ the comment sounds highly negative on the receiving end,” she says. “It’s a filler word that diminishes your confidence and the importance of the message.”
A better approach might be to say “Be sure to get me those reports by the end of the week,” which is clear and direct.
Saying “yes” to a request from your supervisor is usually looked at as being a good thing, but it could cause you to stretch yourself too thin, says Barnett. “You can’t produce quality work if you’re saying ‘yes’ all of the time,” she says. “The danger of burnout should always be considered before you answer.”
Instead of saying “no,” answer with “We can do this. Let’s make a list of priorities and see where it can go.” “This way you share responsibility of where the task goes in order of completion so you don’t feel like everything is a burning priority,” says Barnett.
Transparency goes a long way, but simply saying “sorry” isn’t enough, says Barnett. This is particularly important when speaking with someone who has authority.
“You need to follow ‘sorry’ with an offer of a solution,” she says. “For example, ‘I dropped the ball, but here’s what I’ll do to fix it’ is much better than just saying, ‘I dropped the ball.'”
8. “That’s not my job”
Passing the buck in today’s work environment can be extremely toxic, especially if you’re working with customers or clients. If you receive a request that’s outside your scope, wheelhouse, or expertise, connect the person with someone who can help.
“Say, ‘I have a colleague who knows about this. I’ll get in touch with them,'” suggests Barnett. “It shows that you have confidence,” she says. “You’ve let them know you don’t have an immediate answer, but you’re not leaving them hanging.”