Words Not To Say At Work (5/3/10)

Let's look at some specific words and phrases that are used by some people to buy time, avoid giving answers and escape commitment. If you use these words and phrases yourself, take a scalpel and cut them out of your thinking, speaking and writing. Words like these only weaken you and make you sound noncommittal, undependable and untrustworthy.

"Try"
Try is a weasel word. "Well, I'll try," some people say. It's a cop-out. They're just giving you lip service when they probably have no real intention of doing what you ask. Remember what Yoda says to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: "Do or do not--there is no try." Take Yoda's advice. Give it your all when you attempt something. And if it doesn't work, start over.

"Whatever"
This word is a trusted favorite of people who want to dismiss you, diminish what you say or get rid of you quickly. "Whatever," they will say as an all-purpose response to your earnest request. It's an insult and a verbal slap in the face. It's a way to respond to a person without actually responding. When you say whatever after another person has said his or her piece, you have essentially put up a wall between the two of you and halted any progress in communicating. It's a word to avoid.

"Maybe" and "I don't know"
People will sometimes avoid making a decision and hide behind words and phrases like "maybe" and "I don't know." There's a difference between legitimately not knowing something and using words like these as excuses. Sometimes during a confrontation people will claim not to know something or offer the noncommittal response "maybe," just to avoid being put on the spot. If that seems to be the case, ask, "When do you think you will know?" or "How can you find out?" Don't let the person off the hook so easily.

"I'll get back to you"
When people need to buy time or avoid revealing a project's status, they will say, "I'll get back to you," and they usually never do. If people say they will get back to you, always clarify. Ask them when they will get back to you, and make sure they specify the day and time. If they don't, then pin them down to a day and time and hold them to it. If they won't give you a day or time, tell them you'll call in a day or week and follow up. Make sure you call and get the information you need.

"Yes, but ..."
This is another excuse. You might give your team members suggestions or solutions and they come back to you with "Yes, but . . ." as a response. They don't really want answers, help, or solutions. You need to call the "Yes, but . . ." people out on their avoidance tactic by saying something like: "You know, Jackie, every time I offer you a suggestion you say, 'Yes, but . . . ,' which makes me think you don't really want to solve this problem. That's not going to work. If you want to play the victim, go right ahead, but I'm not going to allow you to keep this up and I may have to report you." After a response like that, you can be assured that the next words you hear will not be, "Yes, but . . ."!

"I guess ..."
This is usually said in a weak, soft-spoken, shoulder-shrugging manner. It's another attempt to shirk responsibility--a phrase is only muttered when people half agree with you, but want to leave enough leeway to say, "Well, I didn't really know. . . . I was only guessing." If you use this phrase, cut it out of your vocabulary.

"We'll see ..."