10 Phrases You Should Stop Saying in Order to Gain Respect in the Workplace

It’s time for a vocabulary makeover. Launching into a new decade means turning a new leaf and we’re marking 2020 as the year we rid our vocabulary of weak, filler language.

Exude confidence and gain respect in the workplace by building these surefire phrases into your daily arsenal.

“But”

You may think this word helps soften the blow for what follows when in reality it shows disapproval. When giving feedback, the word “but” often foreshadows criticism. Lead more effective conversations with this easy swap, shaping your commentary as constructive feedback.

What to say instead: Replace “but” with “and” when you’re giving feedback.

Respect in the Workplace: saying sorry
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.

“Sorry to Bother You”

For many of us, “sorry” is a default reaction or a symbol of discomfort, especially when our actions don’t warrant an apology. In uncomfortable situations — from accidentally bumping into someone to asking for help — we tend to fill space with an apology. This language not only undermines one’s confidence, but also shows insecurity. Going forward, if you aren’t at fault, eliminate the phrase and simply share your message. 

What to say instead: “When you have a minute, I’d like your opinion on…”

“I Hope That’s OK”

Asking for reassurance can sometimes communicate weakness. Acknowledge your strength and present yourself with confidence.

What to say instead: “Thanks for the consideration,” or “I appreciate the help.”

“I Assumed”

Never jump to conclusions without all the proper information. This phrase is unprofessional and conveys a lack of effort when it comes to listening or following up for clarification.

What to say instead: “Could you clarify this for me?”

Respect in the Workplace: boss, confidence
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“I Have to Ask My Boss”

Whether you’re junior level or the CEO, nobody has all the answers. It’s OK to have questions and reach out for confirmation. It’s not OK to undermine your expertise or authority. Present your best self by not advertising hesitation.

What to say instead: “This all sounds great — let me run our conversation by a couple people on the team before moving ahead.”

“Sorry This Is Late”

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Reframe your language to communicate a positive message, even in a negative situation.

What to say instead: “Thanks for your patience.”

Respect in the Workplace: confidence, presenting
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

“I Don’t Know”

Show that you’re reliable and action-oriented. Drive the conversation with your insight around the topic and your efforts to find a solution.

What to say instead: “Well, I can tell you that the report went to the printer on Friday.” Additionally, if you know you can get the information from someone else, try “Let’s loop Devante in to confirm.”

“I Can’t”

Saying you “can’t” do something is self-destructive language. The phrase represents giving up and accepting defeat. You’re in the driver’s seat and your words hold power.

What to say instead: Use “I won’t” instead of “I can’t.”

“I Think or I Feel”

Stop prefacing statements with “I think” or “I feel.” The unnecessary, filler phrases weaken your messaging. “It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group,” says Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, “because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.”

What to say instead: Eliminate the filler language all together and get straight to the point.

Respect in the Workplace: team, we language
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“Me, Myself, and I”

Show you’re part of a team, not above it, and use language that reflects that mentality. James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, found that you can tell a lot about a person by the words they use. Pennebaker states that a person of higher status uses “I” far less in conversation.

What to say instead: We, us, and the team.


For more career tips, read our articles Women at the Top of Their Game Share Their Best Tips for Success in Work and Life and How to Nail Your Next Job Interview: HR Experts Share Top Interview Tips


Emily Stone earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work has been published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.