Monday, March 22, 2010

Three things you should never say in the work place (Not about sexual harassment)

In the English language there are a lot of things you have to be careful about saying, like “I love you,” or “I do.” You have to think long and hard before you use these, but they aren’t the scariest things you could say, especially in the workplace. Here are the top three things you should never say at work.

The first is “Anytime,” which turns a grateful person into an entitled person. I recently did a favor for a co-worker. He said he was really behind and could I just take care of this one thing for him. It was such a sad, pitiful story. I cried a little and agreed to do it. Once the task was done he thanked me enthusiastically. I carelessly said, “Anytime,” not thinking of the possible repercussions. There are always repercussions.

After I let “Anytime” slip this co-worker started coming around on a regular basis, asking for more and more favors. “I know it’s a lot,” he said, “but you said ‘anytime’, right?” He really said that!

How could I respond to that? It was true, I had said it, but now I wanted to say, “‘Anytime’ is just an expression, like saying ‘You’re welcome’ but less formally. Like ‘no problem’ or ‘de nada.’ I didn’t really mean that any time you have something you don’t want to do that I will do it. I thought everyone knew that. I’m sorry you had to hear it from me.”

One thing I’ve learned from my foray into adult career-hood is that if you are caught up on your own work you will inevitably be saddled with someone else’s. Around here hard work is punished, not rewarded. I suspect my “Anytime” friend has already figured that out and knows how to work the system. Why work hard when it will only get you more work to do? Better to do just enough to not get fired. Genius!

The second statement you have to be careful about is, “How’s it going?” It is generally used as a polite greeting. The proper response is, “Well,” but not everyone knows that. I have a co-worker who thinks that when I say, “How’s it going?” as I pass her in the hall it means, “Tell me your life story.” I’ve even tried switching up my greeting, using “Hello” or “Good morning” but I always get the life story. Now I just hide in the mail room when I see her coming and wait until she passes.

The third and trickiest set of words is “I’ll get back to you” and “I’ll look into that.” If you do not actually get back to someone, or you do not actually look into something, these words will brand you as a flake, unless you are a supervisor. If anyone asks a question or voices a concern, a supervisor can say, “I'll look into that,” which is essentially saying, “Trouble me not with these trifling matters, subordinate.”

Along with books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Good to Great, I suspect a lot of managers also read a management book called Shutting Your Employees Up By Telling Them What They Want To Hear With No Intention Of Ever Following Through.

I don’t know for sure, though, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Are there other things you shouldn't say at work that I have failed to mention?


  1. When I worked retail, one of the worst things to say was "We might have it in the back/at another store/somewhere else" because somehow, every customer interpreted it as "we definitely have this item you want in the size, color and quantity you need and will have it for you in .4837 seconds and you have permission to scream at us and say we promised it to you if you do not get it in that allotted amount of time." Apparently, no one who shopped at American Eagle in Orange County knew what "might" meant.

    And definitely agree about "how's it going?" It's such a crapshoot when you say it, because you never know the response you're going to get!

  2. I really hate it when people ask me hows it going though, because what if I'm having a terrible day?

    I guess this is where the whole "is it appropriate" judgment comes in. If my friend asks, then I'll actually tell them how it's going. If it's a stranger in a coffee shop I'll say "fine" or "well" or whatever and change the subject.

    One of my favorite things is to answer literally when someone throws things out there.

    What's going on? I'll tell them EXACTLY what is going on.
    Or what's up? The ceiling.

    *sigh* yeah, I'm that guy.

  3. Heh. I wasn't going to comment. But since I'm apparently going to be 95% cooler, how could I resist?

    It kind of makes you wish we hadn't made "How are you?" a standard greeting. It's hard to tell who's using it as a form, and who means it.

    @ miss.chief. - way to be that guy :)

  4. GODDDD the work pleasantries. They are the bane of my existence! I know I sound like an awful person but seriously sometimes making small talk around the water cooler is the last thing I feel like doing. Glad to know I'm not the only one!

  5. I once made the mistake...oh yes, this was a mistake...of asking a customer how his Christmas was. He replied with "do you want the truth or no?"

    I should have said no...just lie to me sir, tell me it was great.

    Turns out his wife was in the hospital.

    This is why people talk about the weather!

    I wish people would mean what they say - I've had people tell me they'll let me know if they hear about any jobs in my field etc. Do they ever follow through? No.

  6. "How's it going", when asked by me, seems to garner a religious response from EVERYONE in the office.



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