10 Words and Phrases to Avoid in the Workplace

Author: Alice E.M. Underwood Source: Grammarly

Every industry has its jargon. But some words and phrases can be unclear, unnecessary, or even offensive. Maybe some of these are phrases you like building into your business vocab, but use them with caution. If you’re going to offend or annoy someone, or if there’s a clearer way to say something, why not go the easy way?

Our little caveat: every office has different protocol. If you’re buddies with your coworkers, it’s not so strange to talk to them about personal issues. And if you’re in the thick of the consulting, tech, or business world, you might feel inclined to use the lingo and play along. But the joy of language is that there’s always another way to phrase something.

1 “Assume”

We’ve all heard it: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” Cute. But even if the catchphrase earns your eye-roll, it’s a good point: don’t accept something to be the case without proof. For example:

“I assume you finished the report?” “I assumed Bob would run that part of the presentation.” “I assume you’ll be working on Saturday?”

From a boss, “assume” is a passive-aggressive way to show authority. From an underling, it looks like ducking responsibility. In both cases, there are ways to make your point without making an ass out of you and me.

2 “Like”

“I like these doughnuts” is fair game. But avoid using “like,” “um,” “sort of,” “basically,” and other weasel words that fill dead air. They make you sound less confident and can even sort of give the impression that you basically don’t know what you’re, like, talking about.

See what we mean?

3 “We made a $400K offer”

Or, “I finally got that $10K raise,” or even “I’ve never eaten there because it’s too expensive.” Good rule of thumb: avoid stating the amount of money you make or the pile of dough you spent on your trip to Iceland. If someone makes a lot more or a lot less than you, it could lead to awkwardness.

4 “Open the kimono”

Some business folk use this to mean “reveal information,” but it doesn’t necessarily come across that way. It’s a good idea to steer clear of words that could be misinterpreted or cause offense, even if they’re not meant that way.

5 “Hey, man”

Not everyone who works is a man, and even seemingly innocent phrases like “Hey, man” or “What’s up, dude,” when used between people who identify as men, can create an environment of exclusion. Nicknames in general can help build a bond of casual camaraderie—but when that bond is based on being the same sex, that means anyone who doesn’t fall under the category of “man” or “dude” is excluded from the camaraderie.

Most people who use these phrases aren’t being exclusive on purpose. But by calling out a connection based on something that other people in the office don’t share, these “dudes” might be making it harder for women to build the connections that will get them ahead.

6 “Let’s talk that”

“Talk about it”? “Discuss it”? “Have a meaningful and productive dialogue about the issue and its repercussions”?

Here’s why Grammarly doesn’t like this phrase: “talk” is not traditionally a transitive verb because it doesn’t take a direct object. You can talk about something, but that’s an intransitive verb with a prepositional phrase: a very different category.

While phrases like “we can talk it out” or “let’s talk things through” have shown the potential for talk to take on transitive qualities, “let’s talk that” is a step too far.

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