What is your unique strength in the workplace? Perhaps you’re an ideas person, or a sales ace. Maybe colleagues come to you when they need an IT solution, or maybe you’re prized for the way you motivate the people around you.
Whatever your job description and your USP, however, there’s one area you can’t afford to fall behind on: your communication skills. Communication is what makes the workplace function. It affects everything from productivity to innovation, from morale to career development. And even if you are a polite, thoughtful, personable employee, there’s a good chance you have a couple of apparently harmless phrases in your vocabulary that may actually be doing more harm than good.
“But we’ve always done it this way!” is a classic. It may come out of the bag when a new colleague is spotted using an unfamiliar technique, or when you yourself are asked to take a new approach to a particular facet of your work. It doesn’t usually cause offence, but it can be symptomatic of a reluctance to progress and develop better ways of working. When you feel the urge to protest, instead try framing this instinct as a question: “Interesting. Could you please explain to me why your way is better?”
Another well-meaning but misleading phrase is, “This will only take a minute”. The problem here is that there are few tasks that take precisely 60 seconds. Being informal in this way may seem friendly and familiar, but it could prove unhelpful to your colleagues. It implies that they should wait for you before proceeding, when really they might have time to get more done while you get to that task. If you aren’t expected to give a timeframe at all, then don’t make promises you might not be able to keep: instead, say, “I’ll have it with you as soon as possible” or “that’s my next task as soon as I finish what I’m working on.” If they do require you to be more specific, then come up with a more meaningful timeframe. Labelling your task as “only taking a minute” will also de-value the actual effort you need to put into it.
Whether it’s through borrowed idioms such as this, or snap reactions that we haven’t thought through, the things we say at work don’t always represent our true feelings or ideas about things. If you do find yourself inadvertently causing offence or giving the wrong impression of how you feel, there are three simple steps you can follow to try and get back on track. First: apologize. It immediately clears the air and illustrates your intention to set things straight. Then explain what it was that you didn’t mean. Admit you were wrong, and do away with the misconception. Finally, explain what you intended to say. Now you’re up and running again.
The people at Headway Capital have put together the handy infographic below of common workplace phrases that can be counter-productive when used. Check them out, and brush up on their more diplomatic alternatives. Only when you make yourself clearly understood, can you truly shine at those skills for which you are most valued.