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What to Never Say at Work to Your Boss, Colleague, or HR Department

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January 21, 2018 | Categories:

You know better than to say racist comments, blatant sexual harassment, discuss politics in the workplace, but there are plenty of places where knowing what to say is a gray area. Here, psychologists tell you what to never say at work and why.

Never say anything you wouldn’t want to read in print in a meeting.

“I always advise my clients to talk as if everybody is listening,” said Ben Dattner, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and executive coach at Dattner Consulting, LLC in New York City. “Because in today’s world, pretty much everybody is listening. So a lot of my clients talked about the Wall Street Journal test, which is, ‘Would you want to read this in the Wall Street Journal?’ Whatever you’re saying, however you’re being quoted. So I certainly think making references to religion, or politics, or people’s physical appearance, or anything that could be construed as disrespecting somebody, categorizing them, stereotyping them, bringing attention to anything

Never say the phrase, “This is boring,” in a meeting.

We get it, a lot of the meetings you attend might seem unnecessary, a waste of time, and quite lame. But don’t ever say that out loud to another colleague, says Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Mill Valley, Calif., and Life/Business Coach, author of The Stress-Proof Brain (New Harbinger Publications, 2017)

“That’s insensitive to say,” she said. It could also make your boss think you’re not being a team player because you find them boring and think you have better things to do than be in that meeting.

Never tell a female colleague “You look nice,” if you wouldn’t say it to a male colleague.

“There’s heightened sensitivity to propriety when it comes to gender relationships,” said Dattner. “There could be subjective aspect to that. It depends on context. If a male boss tells a female subordinate that she looks good… if he does it in ways that can seem inappropriate, that could be a challenge. So the same statement uttered by different people or the same people in different context or different people in the same context can be taken very differently. But you just have to be careful,” said Dattner.

Greenberg agreed that you’re better off not commenting on appearance and weight of colleagues. “You shouldn’t say anything to a woman that you wouldn’t say to a man,” said Greenberg.

When you tell a colleague, ‘You look nice today,’ or ‘Your haircut looks nice,’ you have to consider how it might be taken. Does that mean their old haircut looked terrible? Does that mean they normally don’t look nice every day? What was intentioned to be an innocent compliment can get out of hand quickly.

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Never tell your boss, “It’s not my fault.”

When your boss comes to you with a concern they have about your work, not taking responsibility is a big no-no, said Greenberg. “When you’re blaming other people, being hostile, defensive, and not taking responsibility, it’s like you’re attacking other people on your team,” said Greenberg. This makes you look like you are a whiner, you blame others for any performance issues or problems and you don’t take constructive feedback. These are all qualities your boss will remember when it’s time to add you to bigger team projects or time for a promotion.

Never act like you’re in a reality TV show when you disagree with colleagues.

It can be entertaining (and cringe-inducing) to watch chefs and restaurateurs yell at subordinates or real estate agents scream at colleagues on reality TV or call to mind those days of yesteryear when contestants undercut one another on ‘The Apprentice “Just the fact that people turn on TV watch real estate shows with people arguing with each other and kind of attacking each other because that makes TV more compelling. So we should make sure not to mimic what we see in the public realm in the workplace. You’re not on Million Dollar Listing,’” said Dattner.

Never say phrases that disrespect colleagues and lower-level employees.

You know not to call people something sexist like “Hon,” or “Beautiful,” at work. But, some people of an older generation or baby boomers might have referred to female colleagues as “girls,” without meaning anything negative by it, and in their cultural and historical context that made sense, said Dattner. But, if you’re at a start-up in Brooklyn or San Francisco where everybody’s a millennial and you use the term “girls” to refer to female employees, people may find that offensive, Dattner said. “We all need feedback as we move from industry to industry or level to level or organization or organization or historical era to historical era or different geographies, different countries, different corporate cultures,” he said. How you speak and communicate may change in different workplace environments, so make sure you’re careful in different settings with colloquial phrases.

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Never complain to your intern about staff and direct reports.

Don’t whine to your intern about other employees, advised Sackett. “Good interns/ assistants are good listeners, and at times, they may be the only person that makes a boss feel heard. This can create the temptation to use them as a sounding board for venting about others in the office, and that temptation must be resisted,” Sackett said. “Not only can they leak sensitive information, potentially leading to conflicts and grievances, but this practice also puts the intern or assistant in a terribly uncomfortable position, often causing good employees to leave.”

Never tell HR anything that you want to be kept in strict confidence.

“That’s because HR professionals often have mandates to report or investigate certain information (like sexual harassment and discrimination),” says Jason Sackett, PCC, LCSW, CEAP, executive coach, author of Compassion@Work: Creating Workplaces that Engage the Human Spirit. “They simply may not be prohibited from sharing information with the one person you desperately don’t want to know your story–and may not have the judgment or professionalism to keep it private,” he said. If you have any concerns about information being disclosed, consult first with someone who is bound by confidentiality laws, such as a therapist, employee assistance professional, lawyer, or clergy person,” said Sackett.

Read the article 11 Things You Should Never Say at Work on Reader’s Digest.

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