5 Phrases That Make Your Colleagues Think You’re a Pushover

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June 21, 2024 at 1:7PM UTC
While emotional intelligence is an important tool in the workplace, there is such a thing as tipping your concern for others into dangerous territory. When you worry about everyone — and everyone's opinions — before you worry about yourself, you can become seen as a pushover. 
Being seen as a pushover can result in your personal and professional boundaries being stomped all over and can also seriously hinder your professional development. Unfortunately, people are less likely to take pushovers seriously —  to put them in charge of projects, to take up their ideas or to promote them. 
Why? Pushovers can be deemed less trustworthy, less confident and less effective. And in reality, some of those charges are usually true — no one wants to work with someone who's always beating around the bush or unable to make decisions. Office pushovers often struggle with both.   
To stop being labeled a pushover, check in to see if you say any of these five phrases. Then, work on removing them from your conversations. It's a great first step to building boundaries and becoming more confident. 

1. "Whatever works best for you!"

If a colleague asks for your opinion on something — whether it's a question on how to approach a project or a time for an appointment — you should really offer it up. While it may feel like you're being accommodating by offering to go along with whatever, failing to zero in on your opinions or needs often wastes time. You may run into a logistical issue later by failing to give specifications on what you can do when. You may end up with more work than you can manage, for example, or with another problem you could've solved by being upfront in the first place. This can lead you to look ineffective, overly accommodating and generally unable to contribute in a meaningful way. 

2. "If it's OK..."

Stop asking your colleagues to evaluate your reasonable requests. If they think a request is unreasonable, they will tell you. Asking them if something is "OK" hands over your power — it makes it look like you are bothering them for an unimportant reason, when you are not, which can lead them to either A) see you as a bother and say "nah, that's not OK" or B) wonder why you are so insecure that you instantly consider yourself a bother. Neither is a good look. 

3. "I hate to bother you, but..."

Like asking "if it's OK," saying you hate to bother someone then continuing on to bother them makes you look flimsy. If you are truly bothering them, don't. If you aren't, don't act like you are. It's great to say something accommodating and considerate as long as it is direct and doesn't make you look guilty for asking for what you need.  For example, try: "I understand you are busy this week, but I need someone to help me with this task. Do you have the time?" 

4. "I feel" or "I think" or "I just"

While it may feel like these filler phrases temper your message and make them more palatable to your colleagues, in reality, they make your words harder to swallow. Not being direct can make you look unsure, unconfident or untrustworthy — i.e., "why is this person putting so much effort into not being direct?" Try to say what you mean without the half-baked apology disguised as a sentence starter. 

5. "Sorry" — if you use it a lot 

Saying "sorry" can be an incredible show of emotional intelligence and critical to healthy workplace relationships. But constantly apologizing when it's not necessary makes you look deferential and insecure. If you feel the itch to apologize for something in the workplace, see if you can say "thank you" to the person instead. For instance, instead of saying "sorry for the delay," try saying "thanks for your patience."

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