25 Commonly Used Phrases That Can Hinder Your Success

6 minute read
Inc. logo

What you say and how you say it can have a big impact on your success. Unfortunately, what seems like an innocent phrase in the workplace can lead you straight out the door.

Want to avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time? Here are 25 seemingly innocent things you say at work that could actually get you fired:

1. “There’s nothing I can do.”

It’s highly doubtful that you’ve actually exhausted every option. This phrase sounds like you’re avoiding work and responsibility — an attitude that’s sure to get you fired.

2. “It’s not fair.”

This just makes you sound like a whiner. Life isn’t fair. Grow up. Do what’s needed and move on.

3. “That’s impossible.”

This statement immediately labels you as a small thinker and obstructer. Things are almost always possible, if you’re willing to brainstorm and work at it.

4. “I wish… “

Don’t wish, do. This phrase makes you sound passive and unwilling to do what’s needed. And that’s an attitude no boss wants on their team.

5. “We’ve always done it that way.”

Someone who doesn’t want to innovate or do things a new way won’t last long in today’s ever-changing workplace.

6. “That’s not my job.”

Whether it is or isn’t, this is the complaint of someone who isn’t a team player. If your boss asked you to do it, it just became your job — if it was a co-worker, they could use your help.

7. “Did you hear what happened to… “

While office gossip is commonplace, it’s still harmful, and participating in it can easily get you fired. Watch what you say and mind your own business.

8. “My spouse is such a jerk! Yesterday… “

Airing personal problems at work makes others uncomfortable and comes across as unprofessional. Talking to a friend on your lunch break is one thing, but making personal issues public can get you fired.

9. “This pay is so lousy here!”

If you don’t like your pay, your boss, or your company, keep it quiet and work on finding a better solution. Speaking publicly about what you dislike will get you shown the door before you’re ready.

(Gifts: The 100 Most Influential Images of All Time)

10. “@MyCompany is a horrible place to work.”

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, don’t think your employer isn’t keeping tabs on what others say about them. Complaining about the company online or using social media during work hours can quickly get you fired.

11. “I don’t get paid enough for this.”

Not only does this put you firmly in the “lazy” camp, it also indicates that you’re ungrateful for opportunities. If your pay should be increased, address it professionally — not by saying things like this.

12. “I’ll try.”

This phrase denotes a lack of confidence in your abilities — or, even worse, a lack of urgency on your part to complete the work. By saying you’ll try, you’re giving your boss no reason to have confidence in your abilities either.

13. “She’s so lazy.”

Name-calling is right up there with gossip when it comes to childish ways to lose your job. Stay away from judging other people’s work, and stick to doing your own very, very well.

14. “You should have… “

Whether you’re right or not, a phrase like this will be seen as an accusation. If you find yourself saying this to your boss, apologize before he or she kicks you out the door.

15. “This may be silly, but… “

Why would others give you credit for an idea if you can’t give it to yourself? This phrase reduces your credibility and professionalism — the wrong direction to go if you’re looking to keep your job.

16. “Don’t you think?”

Continually trying to get others to validate your ideas isn’t just annoying, it also diminishes the respect that your co-workers and boss have for you. Saying this all the time will have your boss looking for a more qualified team member.

17. “I don’t have time right now.”

Even if this is true, it’s rude to put off others in this way. Instead, offer to make an appointment or email them when you’re available for a project or conversation.

18. “It’s just… “

A recent Business Insider article points out that “just” is a permission word, and that using it too frequently can damage your credibility with others. Avoid this phrase if you want to continue moving up at work.

19. “Me, me, me… “

Being self-centered at work puts off those around you and makes you appear less valuable to the team. Focus more on others’ needs, and use terms like “we” and “us” whenever possible.

20. “You look tired.”

Commenting on another’s appearance is rarely appropriate, and in some cases, it can be intrusive. Stick to positive comments about people’s appearance, or better yet, say nothing about it at all.

21. “I’m sorry, I have a question… “

Never say you’re sorry if you’re not actually sorry. Having a question isn’t something to apologize for. Apologizing often makes you seem tentative and unsure — and that’s definitely not a plus in the workplace.

22. “I just need a minute.”

No you don’t — you can’t accomplish anything in a single minute. Stop using this phrase and be precise about what you need. Your boss and co-workers will appreciate the respect.

23. “Um… ” and “Well… “

These filler words don’t communicate anything, and they won’t improve others’ confidence in you. Skip them and say what you mean.

24. “We call it ‘The Aristocrats’… “

Even if inappropriate jokes occur “just between friends,” someone can easily overhear you and become uncomfortable. Harassment and creating a poor work environment are serious issues that — unlike some of the others on this list — could get you fired immediately.

25. “I want to touch base on how we’ll synergize the pivot… “

Relying on corporate jargon shows you aren’t able to think critically or originally. Ditch the buzzwords. Make sure that what you say has substance, or you won’t be on your work team for long.

Why are these phrases so damaging? Although many of them seem innocent — and few are likely to result in immediate termination — they may point to serious underlying issues. Whether it’s laziness, disrespect for others, lack of confidence, or just plain foolishness, these phrases reveal traits that will, ultimately, get you fired.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com

5 Horrible Habits You Need to Stop Right Now

Do Not Email First Thing in the Morning or Last Thing at Night “The former scrambles your priorities and all your plans for the day and the latter just gives you insomnia,” says Ferriss, who insists “email can wait until 10am” or after you check off at least one substantive to-do list item.Chris Pecoraro—Getty Images
Do Not Agree to Meetings or Calls With No Clear Agenda or End Time “If the desired outcome is defined clearly… and there’s an agenda listing topics–questions to cover–no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes,” claims Ferriss, so “request them in advance so you can ‘best prepare and make good use of our time together.'”Sam Edwards—Getty Images/Caiaimage
Do Not Check Email Constantly Batch it and check it only periodically at set times (Ferriss goes for twice a day). Your inbox is analogous to a cocaine pellet dispenser, says Ferriss. Don’t be an addict. Tools like strategic use of the auto responder and Boomerang can help.Jetta Productions—Getty Images
Do Not Carry a Digital Leash 24/7 At least one day a week leave you smartphone somewhere where you can’t get easy access to it. If you’re gasping, you’re probably the type of person that most needs to do kick this particular habit.by nacoki ( MEDIA ARC )—Getty Images/Flickr RF
Do Not Let People Ramble Sounds harsh, but it’s necessary, Ferriss believes. “Small talk takes up big time,” he says, so when people start to tell you about their weekends, cut them off politely with something like “I’m in the middle of something, but what’s up?” But be aware, not everyone agrees with this one (and certainly not in every situation), and you may want to pay particularly close attention to norms around chit chat when traveling internationally.Reza Estakhrian—Getty Images

More from Inc.com:

  • How Steve Jobs Trained His Own Brain
  • 20 Public Speaking Tips of the Best TED Talks
  • 20 Embarrassing Phrases Even Smart People Misuse


    More Must-Reads from TIME

    Contact us at letters@time.com