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You may be a hard worker who graduated at the top of your class. You may be an asset to any organization that employs you. Even so, you may still, at times, sound immature or unprofessional at work. Because in the workplace (as in life) we are judged not only for the action items we can efficiently accomplish, but by how we speak and present ourselves.
Our word choices matter, and even if you’re not spouting anything overtly offensive, small slip-ups can leave a lasting impression. If you don’t want to run the risk of sounding inexperienced or unprofessional in the office, here are some words and phrases to avoid.
Filler words: While we all lean on the occasional “like,” “you know,” and “um,” over-reliance on filler words can make us sound inarticulate at best, and incompetent at worst. (We could all use help with this, to be honest. The average speaker uses five filler words per minute. Here’s how to break the habit.)
Business jargon: Some business jargon like “synergy,” “low-hanging fruit,” and “core competency” may be inescapable in certain corporate environments. But over-use of corporate lingo can backfire, making you look like you’re trying to cover up a lack of knowledge with fancy words. (Give 110% if you must, but please stop “opening the kimono.” It’s weird.)
Kind of/sort of/I guess/just: We use these type of “hedging words,” according to speech trainer and author John Bowe, “to seem reasonable, approachable or the opposite of bossy.” But not only are they distracting, they also convey a lack of clarity and self-assurance.
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Asides: You may be trying to break the ice, build rapport, or convey relatability, but off-topic or snarky asides can do more harm than good. Making jokes about your mother-in-law, the bar last night, or excusing your sloppiness by blaming your travel schedule or binge-watching Ozark is not a good look. Save the stand-up for open mic night.
Whatever: Is there a more immature word than whatever, the backbone of the American high schooler’s lexicon of malaise? Watch using this casual form of half-acquiescence, along with its teenage-sounding brethren: Literally, totally, and random.
No worries/Not a problem: While admittedly not a huge offender, watch using these two phrases constantly in lieu of “you’re welcome.” They can sound overly casual, and imply the person who said just thank you was worried, or the thing they asked for was borderline problematic.
“Dude,” “bro,” or “man”: While some work environments are more casual than others, attaching “dude,” “bro” or “man” when speaking downgrades what you’re saying and causes you to be taken less seriously.
Referring to women as “girls”: If the person or group of people you are referring to is over the age of 18, use woman/women, not “girl(s).”
Referring to everyone as “you guys”: As accepted as it has become to refer to a group of men and women as “you guys,” the term guys means men. Now more than ever, as we shift our gender identity language towards more inclusivity, referring to mixed-gender groups as “you guys” sounds outdated. (Consider the alternatives: All, Everyone, Team, Friends, Folks.)
It is what it is: And what is it, exactly? That would be helpful to know because this statement means nothing.
Profanity: This is a one-way ticket to the figurative timeout corner of your employer’s mind.
That sucks: It does.
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