Using This Common 3-Word Phrase Could Be Ruining Your Credibility at Work

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May 25, 2024 at 9:24PM UTC
Like fashion or technology, career advice follows trends. And if I had to define the major advice trends of the last year or so, I'd put the idea of developing your EQ at the top of the list. Emotional intelligence and how it affects our professional relationships — and, in turn, our career development — is a hot topic. 
It's easier said than done to exercise this skill and become more conscientious of how we're interacting with others. But recently, in looking at my own interactions and reading a bit about common flaws in everyday communication, I've found one phrase all of us would be better off cutting. Because, really, all it communicates is you're bad at empathetic communication. 

That phrase is "couldn't you just."

Often seen as an innocent filler or a way to communicate deference to whoever you're advising, "couldn't you just" actually leaves an opposite impression. It communicates that you have a suggestion that's  common knowledge, an obvious move or a simple oversight on the part of whoever you're talking to. 
"Couldn't you just" takes what could be helpful advice and makes it feel both unnecessary and like the question itself was shameful. This can make it especially harmful when used in conversation with a direct report or junior employee who may have genuinely needed guidance — without feeling stupid for asking. On the flip side, it could be read as disrespectful or as "know-it-all" behavior to higher ups. Basically, in any context, it's better being left out of conversation. It ruins your credibility as a team player who respects members of their team and their unique understandings of situations — a reputation no one wants to lose. 
Sure, there's a chance the person on the other side won't read into this phrase at all. But if you believe in communicating sensitively, cutting "couldn't you just" is a good way to lead conversations by thinking of the other person. And getting inside someone else's head and leading interactions with that is a pillar of emotional intelligence. Heck, it might be the easier half to master. Introspection? Now that's a topic for another day. 

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