When you’re a manager, your employees look up to you and how you behave and what you say can have a far-reaching impact on your team. As a result, it’s important to be intentional about your choice of words in any setting, lest you end up hurting someone or crush their self-confidence to dust.
Toxic Phrases You Must Never Use At Work
When you outrightly tell someone that they can’t do something, it sticks in their mind more than you know, and they end up believing you even if you are wrong. Especially if the person looks up to you, is new at their job, or trusts your opinion, your lack of faith shakes their confidence.
2. “Don’t be dumb”
“Dumb” is a cop-out and is something you should never use to describe or put down someone. Even if one of your teammates possesses below-average intelligence or did something silly, you can’t cement their flaws. Telling someone that they are dumb is going to demotivate them only.
If you have ever been called irresponsible because you inadvertently made a blunder, you must know how it feels. Don’t be too hasty to part with this word at the smallest mishap. If someone has erred, at least give them a chance to explain themselves. Reserve it for when it is truly warranted. If you use it too often, you will intimidate those around you.
Japanese scientist Masaru Emote conducted a series of experiments to gauge the impact of words on our health. One of his most notable experiments yielded the most surprising results. He placed two identical jars of rice side by side in a local school. He labeled one “You fool” and the other “Thank you” and asked the students to repeat those phrases to the jars daily. After a couple of days, the jar of rice that was thanked everyday remained white and fluffy, while the harangued one disintegrated into a black, goopy mess. Now imagine how people wither inside when you display disparaging behavior.
In my opinion, “no” is the ultimate negative word you can say to someone. This small word impacts us deeply. In fact, research tells us that we react more slowly to the word “no” than to “yes”. If you must, you should let down someone gently instead of uttering this harsh phrase.
6. “You are a failure”
Why would you ever tell someone that they are a failure when they “fail” to please you? Perhaps, your wrong is their right? Instead of telling your employees how failure isn’t an option, perhaps you could motivate them by saying something like “success is your only option”. Positive trumps negative in every situation.
You should refrain from using such toxic phrases to describe someone’s character or actions. Unless someone has done something really “bad”, you can look up other helpful words to offer constructive criticism.
Just because they don’t confirm to your idea of how something is done, doesn’t make them wrong. When you outrightly tell someone that they are wrong, you question their intelligence and irk them. Unless it’s an absolute “black or white” situation, a more nuanced statement is more suitable. Not to mention, people who are quick to label others wrong, display closed-minded thinking. No one is completely right or wrong. Everyone has their own perspectives and ideation, which can be different from yours. Using this word assumes that only you know best, that you have a monopoly on the truth. Remember that there are myriad degrees of truth to each point.
9. “It’s your fault”
Unless you are talking about earthquakes, blaming someone by telling them “it’s their fault” can do more harm than you think. Even if a situation necessitates you to find the one at fault, know that it is a precarious path you are walking. If you must assign fault, be succinct, and focus on the team as a single unit more than on one any one person. Instead of blatantly calling them out on their fault, perhaps you could find a way to frame the accusation so that it doesn’t look like one.
10. “This is impossible”
This is another way of saying “never.” Know that nothing is impossible; perhaps it is not possible for the moment. A century down the lane, who could have conceived the idea of someone flying across the country at 40,000 feet at speeds of 550 mph? Now, you don’t think twice about it. This phrase can be used sparingly, and framed constructively, when absolutely needed, but using it with a heavy, negative tone augments its effects. Your words matter a great deal if you truly want people to listen, so you would be better off making positive word choices.
11. “Let me show you how it’s done”
Even the most patient and accepting leaders find themselves saying this impulsively from time to time. If you think that you are getting too involved in the details, try to read their body language and look out for signs of a decrease in their initiative. Once you have given out clear instructions, sit back and let them do it at their own ease. They might not be able to do it as flawlessly as you would have done, but they can’t grow if you don’t give them room to experiment. On the other hand, you can take the reins and lead the team if a lot is at stake and you are the only expert at the task.
12. “I am ashamed of you”
You can’t imagine how disheartening this phrase is until someone has said it to you. Even if you feel a compulsion to express this sentiment, try to find a less hurtful way of wording your disappointment in someone.
13. “You think you are smarter than me?”
Not everyone takes well to criticism. Some bosses take everything personally and lose their cool. They end up being a tough nut to crack since they tend to silence great ideas and keep everyone on pins and needles. People in higher positions need to realize that good ideas can come to anyone, regardless of their rank. If your employees tell you that your decision might hurt the organization or come up with a better strategy for a client, you might want to look it over. You could be right but getting a second opinion doesn’t make you any less competent.
14. “You are incompetent”
Such toxic phrases comes naturally to all those less-than-effective bosses who validate their own position by intimidating others. It’s one thing to encourage employees to try harder or give it their best, and a whole different thing to tell them how incompetent they are or how they will never meet your expectations. Refrain from resorting to such toxic phrases to chastise your employees.
15. “Keep Doing What You’re Doing”
Leaders often tell this to their high performers, the ones they can count on to deliver. By telling them to carry on what they are doing, you intend to encourage them by insinuating that they are doing a great job. However, your high performers don’t seem to think so. I see ambitious employees fuming at this phrase, since they want actual feedback which will help them grow and advance in the careers. They are not content with carrying on what they have always been doing. The absence of constructive criticism pushes them to seek out other opportunities where they’ll get the mentorship they need to continue moving up.
16. “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”
This phrase is usually meant to encourage proactivity and foster a problem-solving attitude, or to prevent whiny employees from constantly spewing a tirade of complaints instead of doing anything to solve them. But on the flip side, it keeps people from voicing serious issues they simply don’t know how to solve for fear of rebuttal. This keeps leaders in the dark about the dilemmas faced by their teammates. It also creates a “culture of advocacy” where people are concerned about selling their ideas rather than engaging with the group to work collaboratively
17. “I am mad”
Most people verbalize their feelings of anger as “being mad”. However, according to psychologists, anger is actually a secondary emotion, used to mask other feelings that leave us more vulnerable, such as fear, rejection, sadness, or loss. Next time you are about to tell someone you’re “mad”, sit back and think if that is indeed what you are feeling or if you could use a more specific word to describe what you are actually feeling instead of such toxic phrases!
Using absolutes such as never, always, no, often indicates that you feel very strongly about something…however, that is hardly ever true. You can’t tell someone that they “always fail” or that they “can never do something”, unless you want to intimidate or truly hurt them. But if this isn’t your intention, you shouldn’t use such toxic phrases and instead take a different approach.
Have you ever caught yourself using any of these toxic phrases in front of your team? Have you ever been subjected to such toxic phrases in your career? do let us know in the comments below.