Communication in the workplace is a topic that’s been studied in many ways. And here’s a spoiler alert: the data always shows that effective workplace communication is crucial to personal career growth. Yet even the most seasoned pros can inadvertently undermine themselves by not choosing their words carefully.
Here are three common phrases that make you sound naive at work—and what you should say instead.
“I’m so busy.”
We live in a day and age in which “busyness” is perceived as a sign of success. Think about it: how many times has someone asked how you are and you’ve replied with, “Good, but busy!” Yet despite the our knee-jerk reaction to brag about how busy we are, studies show that this focus on being in a constant state of activity is actually detrimental to productivity. And when you voice how busy you are to colleagues, it can have an off-putting effect.
Maybe your manager has just added something else to your to-do list, a coworker has requested your help with a project, or a client has asked for a deliverable. In any scenario, responding to a request by stating how busy you are is not ideal.
Instead of saying, “I’m so busy,” try:
I have a lot on my plate right now, and I’d love your help prioritizing.
Is there a specific deadline I should work toward? I want to be sure I can deliver this when you need it.
“I don’t know how to do that.”
No one is expected to be an expert in everything—even the most badass girlbosses admit to not being perfect. And in fact, world-renowned researcher and author Dr. Brené Brown says perfectionism is actually a defense mechanism. So first things first: get the idea that you are expected to immediately know how to do everything at your company/in your role/in life out of your head.
Openly admitting that you don’t know how to do something isn’t necessarily bad—it all depends in your delivery. Qualities like positivity, curiosity and enthusiasm are regularly cited as those hiring managers value most, so displaying those characteristics—even when admitting you aren’t in fact perfect—can go a long way.
So instead of saying, “I don’t know know to do that,” try:
I’ve never done that before, but I’m eager to learn! If you have any tips or can point me towards a resource you’ve found to be helpful, I’d really appreciate it.
“I could be wrong, but…”
Countless research studies have proven that women tend to communicate in less direct manners than men do, particularly in the workplace. One of the most common examples of this is when women caveat what they’re about to say, so as not to appear too bossy, or to shield themselves from potential dissention or negative feedback. While it may seem like a safe approach, it can be doing more damage than good.
When sharing your ideas, instead of saying “I could be wrong, but…” try:
Based on the research I’ve done, I think [insert idea here] could be an effective way to accomplish our goal.
Or better yet: don’t overthink it and just share your idea!
By keeping these three phrases—and more importantly, the alternatives for each—in mind, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master of workplace communication.
Kaitlin Bitting is a vice president of public relations and a certified health & wellness coach. She's passionate about helping people find the motivation to create lasting, positive change in their lives, whether personal or professional. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.