How many of you remember your mom or dad washing your mouth out with soap when you said a bad word and got caught lying? I don’t know if it’s still a common practice, but many people of my generation remember the awful taste this left in their mouths and dutifully passed this teaching opportunity to their children.

My dad always told me, “Think before you speak.” Easier said than done. However, over the years you learn NOT to use certain words that you know will invite a negative reaction or worse.

Words matter. They can uplift or they can knock down. They can unite or divide. They can paint a masterpiece idea or rust an ironclad agreement. Use your words wisely.

You can be bright and cheerful on the inside, but your words and behavior can sabotage your best efforts. I have compiled a list of phrases that you should banish from your workplace vocabulary.

  • “It’s impossible.” Any variation of “I can’t do that” will generally mark you as someone who doesn’t want to work hard or take on a new challenge. Unless you’re being asked the laws of physics (or your state), make an honest effort to do what’s asked of you.
  • “That’s not my job.” Teamwork is essential to any organization’s success. Don’t hide behind your job description to get out of assignments you don’t want. Too many people take their job descriptions so literally, often ignoring the “and other duties as necessary.” If you’re too busy, or the task is outside your field of expertise, say so. If not, do your best to accommodate requests and follow instructions whether they’re officially part of your job or not.
  • “I’ll try.” Too often this can be seen as an alibi. You’ll make some effort, but you’re not really committed to success. Replace “try” with “will” to motivate yourself – and to inspire other people’s confidence in you. Learn from the wisdom of Yoda, the Star Wars Jedi master: “Do or do not. There is no try.” They don’t pay off on effort; they pay off on results.
  • “It’s not fair.” You don’t want to get a reputation as a whiner. Complaining about every injustice or slight at work will alienate the people you want to get along with. Focus on doing your job to the best of your ability whatever happens.
  • “Who comes up with this stuff?” Yes, we’ve all thought it. And there are times when it is a completely legitimate question. But I will guarantee you, the minute that sentiment is uttered aloud; the boss who proposed the idea will appear around a corner and wonder who is unwilling to give it a go.
  • “That’s bizarre/stupid/unreasonable.” Don’t be offensive and demean a co-worker. This shows you are not a team player. Ask for details to see if you have misunderstood what is being proposed. If you don’t like their idea, explain why politely. It always helps to have a workable solution in your back pocket too.
  • “You should have …” Avoid anything that sounds like you’re searching for blame or scapegoats instead of solutions. Try to join forces instead. Ask what happened so you can figure out what to do next. And keep in mind, many great ideas have sprung up from mistakes on the first go-round. (We prefer to call that “research.”)
  • “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” When anything’s been done the same way over a long period of time, sometimes it’s a good sign it’s being done the wrong way. So, what am I saying? Think big, think bold, think creative, think stretch, think quantum leaps. Always think becoming a differentiator, think vision, think speed, think customize, think focus, think flexible. Sometimes it’s risky not to take a risk.
  • “This may be a dumb question, but …” Don’t diminish your point before you’ve even made it. What is really dumb is to proceed when you don’t understand what you are supposed to do or what outcome you are seeking. I have always thought that some of the best communication advice ever offered came from Thumper, the young bunny in the Disney movie “Bambi”: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” It’s so much easier to have said nothing than to have to try to walk back a thoughtless statement.

As President Calvin Coolidge said, “I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.”

Mackay’s Moral:  Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can come back to haunt you.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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