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7 Things You Should Never Say at Work

Topics: Work Culture
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We spend a lot of time at work. Often, we’re there more than we’re home. In fact, over the course of a 50-year working life, about 35 percent of our waking hours are spent at work. So, it stands to reason that we can get pretty comfortable around the office, especially after years at the same job.

In many ways, it pays to be yourself at work. However, that doesn’t mean that anything goes. No matter what, there are a few things you should never, ever say at work, under any circumstances. Have you ever been tempted?

1. “But we’ve always done it this way.

In today’s world, you have to be open to change, and you ought to be ready for it, too. The fact that things have always been done a certain way means basically nothing. Things change and systems and methods ought to be updated alongside those changes. Your job is to roll with it and help to move things forward, not push back.

2. “That’s not in my job description/contract.”

You should be sure to talk about how you’re going above and beyond when it comes time to negotiate your salary. However, during the course of a normal working day, it’s probably not a good idea to refuse to do something because it’s outside the bounds of your contract or job description. Most workers are asked to do extra now and then. Pointing it out won’t endear you to the boss.

3. “To be honest…

To be honest, it’s probably better to just say whatever you are going to say without introducing it with this phrase. Or, just skip over the whole item entirely. Statements that follow “to be honest” tend to be the kinds of things no one wants to hear. Or, it can indicate that you’re about to share something you shouldn’t — maybe something confidential. So, if you find yourself compelled to utter this phrase, rethink whether or not you really ought to go down the road you’re pointing toward.

4. “Can I complain to you for a second?”

No. No you can’t. Whether it’s about your personal life or your professional world, no one wants to hear you complaining at work. There are other ways to ask for support or to solve problems.

5. “Wow, it’s really quiet here today. It’s so nice and peaceful.”

This is just bad luck and poor form. This is especially true for professionals who work in places like schools and hospitals. They tend to have unspoken rules about things like this. Really.

6. “Well, actually…”

There is something kind of obnoxious about introducing a correction with this phrase. There are kinder ways to do it. Often, simply leaving off the phrase works just fine. Instead of saying, “Well, actually, it was 104, not 102.” Just say, “It was 104, not 102.” Better, right?

7. “Sorry I’m late!

Just try not to be late. It’s really unprofessional. And, saying that you’re sorry really doesn’t do anything to repair the damage. If you are running behind schedule, quietly sneak in, maybe say “excuse me” or “my apologies” and move on. But, don’t be disruptive. Better yet, don’t be late.

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This post was updated from an earlier version previously published on PayScale.

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R. WoodwardCarolKarlJimDot Recent comment authors
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Point 2 is very difficult in practice. Today I had a discussion with my boss about the range of my duties because last Friday one of my colleagues from quality dept blamed me for not doing something which does NOT belong to my professional engineering area. It was his task, he didn’t do it on time. But – how could you say in front of your team – “This is not my job”?? – How to be assertive in this… Read more »


If you are a salaried, exempt employee of a corporation, by all means go above and beyond (even most hourly employees can go above and beyond)! If not, be cautious with item 2. If you work on contract and someone asks you to do something outside the contract, you risk violating terms. Even if the task is something small and doesn’t seem like it has potential to cause problems, stepping outside formally agreed-upon terms can have disastrous results. If you’re… Read more »


I wish I had a ‘rant timer’ in my brain. Sometimes I feel like i just had a good exchange with a coworker only to realize I haven’t taken a breath for 5 minutes.


1. OK 2. Seriously? I always have peole ask me to do things because I am female, and it is not my job: Of course, selective deafness works well sometimes. Or a question such as “I am sorry, I didn’t quite understand what you said, could you repeat that?” 3. That’s way too generic. When people speak they follow their speech patterns. Just be sure that what you say honestly isn’t stupid. 4. If it’s a good work friend, complaining… Read more »

R. Woodward
R. Woodward

#3 actually means “to be frank” and doesn’t get said nearly often enough in business or politics. Yes, you’re telling them something they would rather not hear, but usually *need* to hear. Avoiding frankness, especially when a colleague is about to make a terrible mistake is being a toady and a yes-person, and to be honest, we have way too many of those already.


Millennials are constantly late, but they are rarely sorry about it.

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