Workplace Conflict Prevention

5 Things You Should Never Say at Work

By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer

Saying certain thing at work can give others the wrong idea about you and your motives, so be aware of how your words come across to others. Here are five career killers.

“It’s all your fault.”

This one is fairly obvious — direct blame never looks good. “What people are saying is ‘I’ve got to cover my rear end,'” says Barb Krantz Taylor, principal consultant at The Bailey Group in Minneapolis. And that can make you look insecure, reluctant to take responsibility, or even a tyrant. “Leaders need self-management, and if I feel angry, I need to find ways to deal with it,” Taylor says. Lashing out and blaming others not only doesn’t solve the problem at hand, it wrecks business relationships and can seriously hurt your career. Instead, focus on solving the problem and then, when things are quieter, finding out how to prevent it from happening again.

“It’s all my fault.”

This seems like it could be helpful, but Taylor warns that it’s not. “Falling on your sword brings you into a place of shame,” she says. Being the martyr and taking everything on yourself can set you up for future blame, as well as plant the impression that you are incompetent. Accept the responsibility for things only if that responsibility is truly yours. “You can apologize for a situation that someone is in,” Taylor says, adding that doing so can be effective in moving the focus away from who’s at fault and onto finding solutions.

“It’s not fair.”

Whether this is true or not, this is one of the most unhelpful things you can say at work. No matter how you say it, it’s going to come across as whining. And the answer you’re likely to get can be something along the lines of “You’re right — so what?” Instead, find more concrete, fact-based objections to something you want to change, rather than relying on emotional appeal.

“That’s not my job.”

In today’s work environment, employees are often asked to go above and beyond as a matter of routine. “That’s not my job” can make you look stubborn, lazy and generally uninterested in the company’s success. Instead, identify the problem you have with the task at hand — is it something you truly don’t have time for? Is it something that someone else would do better? In addition, Taylor recommends seeing things from the other person’s perspective. “If we can be curious about expectations, we can better manage relationships we have with people,” she says. There are instances where a jurisdictional or work agreement may make something truly not your job, but if this is not the case, find a better way to turn down extra projects.

“Don’t tell so-and-so, but…”

Office politics can be devastating. While you may be involved in closed-door meetings with colleagues or managers, don’t say anything in private at work that you wouldn’t want said in public at work. No matter how you think you can manage secrets, words often have a way of getting around. Be prudent about what you share and whom you share it with. Watching your words is an important part of your workday life. Think twice before you say something, and try to imagine how your words sound to others.

About Bob O'Connor

Bob O'Connor Bob brings a wealth of experience to his work as an alternative dispute resolution practitioner and trainer. He has worked with families in crisis for nearly three decades, and he has mediated hundreds of disputes. Upon his graduation from Albion College in 1977, he began his legal training in England at Oxford University where he earned an M.Juris. He pursued but did not finish his J.D. at Notre Dame Law School, and later received his LL.M. in Alternative Dispute Resolution at The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University School of Law. He has dedicated himself to the development of the field of alternative dispute resolution. He is the author of Marital Separation Agreements A Guide for Non-Lawyer Mediators (ICR Publishing 2011.) Bob lectures in leadership development to the non-ADR community, and on practice-related issues in mediation. In addition to his private practice, Conflict Resolution Specialists, he served as a certified Superior Court mediator in North Carolina, Georgia, and California. He also founded the Institute for Conflict Resolution—an education and publishing entity. www.conflicresolutionspecialists.com
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