gossip about coworkersMost of us like to think of our places of work as a place where we can speak freely. That said however, there are certain phrases and topics that are off limits in a professional environment.

Things that you might say in a social context don’t always belong at work, and when uttered in the office (or wherever it is that you work) they may be inappropriate, unconstructive or even illegal. HR professionals will tell you that whether you’re the boss or the intern, it pays to think before you speak.

A list of “banned” words posted by the manager of a fast food restaurant in the US did the rounds on the internet this week. It’s full of engaging and impenetrable slang terms, but something to keep in mind as a manager is that inappropriate language is not just a matter of the words used but of the attitude portrayed, or perhaps the topics discussed.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at just a few of the things you and your co-workers should avoid in the professional environment.

“That’s not my responsibility”

Many jobs consist not so much of one big thing, but of a lot of small duties. Some of these are strictly related to your function but you’ll often be expected to assist with miscellaneous tasks that your manager requests. So if you’re asked to make the coffee or take out the rubbish, you’re probably best off just taking care of it quickly and getting back to work – unless you have a real reason to object, such as that what you’re being asked is dangerous or illegal.

“I pay your salary”

As a motivational technique, mentioning an employee’s salary is a low blow. It almost always comes across as more of a threat than is generally acceptable. Find a more positive way to motivate people.

“We’ve always done it this way”

Your team is probably full of suggestions to improve the way your organisation does business. Some ideas might be quite good, and others will deserve to be rejected. However, tradition is a terrible reason to turn down an idea and innovative ideas should be welcomed where they make sense.

“I put in more hours than you”

This line is sometimes used to try to win an argument by changing the subject to something unrelated – the amount of time spent at the office. The number of hours a person works does not always indicate that person is contributing more to the company, or even that they work harder. It’s also unlikely to impress whoever you are trying to convince.

“I’m too busy”

Many of us find ourselves behind on work, and that can make it annoying when someone comes along with another task to add to the pile. Retorting with “I’m far too busy” however is overly dismissive and unconstructive. For important tasks, it’s often possible to find time by reprioritising your current workload; for less urgent tasks, make a plan to get to them eventually or alternatively ask for the project to be reassigned to someone else.


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