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?