Manners & Misdemeanors

7 Things to Say and Do That Will Make You Better at Work

And seven things you should stop saying at the office.

Every little thing you say or do at your workplace will reflect your level of work ethic. To polish those inter-office communication skills, here are thoughtful alternative ways you can respond to common situations at work:

When someone shoots down your idea

What not to do: Be defensive

What to say instead: “I understand your concern, but I think this idea is worth a try because…”

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a meeting or a presentation and the panel questions your ideas or suggestions. Don’t panic and readily agree with his or her objections. Fast Company recommends that you take time to process this rejection by doing the following steps: Pause and think about how you’re going to respond, which can also give the objector time to give an explanation; then you could take the time to help him understand your idea instead of giving a defensive or emotional answer; lastly, agree in part. Say that you see his point to show that you are listening. If you come prepared with a solution to their concern, say, “I understand your concern, but I think we should give this idea a try because…” If you don’t have a solution to their concern, be straightforward and say you will think about this again and get back to them.


When you’re shooting down someone else’s idea

What not to say: “That won’t work” or “That’s a terrible idea” 

What to do: Respectfully bring up the idea's shortcomings

Before you say anything, make sure that your reason for rejecting the idea is valid. Then, as mentioned above, make sure to present an explanation as you point out the issue. You may also soften the blow by asking posing your concern as a question. By saying something like “Do you think these images would work for this type of market,” the presenter might come to a realization on his own.

When you’re expressing an opinion

What not to say: “I like this option more.”

What to say instead: “This option will work for us because…”

Try not to make it seem like a personal opinion because that would subject your statement to personal biases and make it less credible. Instead, frame it in an informed way by backing it up with an explanation. For example, “This option will work for our brand because of the positive response we’ve seen in the past.”


When you fail to deliver or make a mistake

What not to say: “I’m sorry.”

What to do: Recognize your mistake and correct it.

We’re not saying you should stop apologizing altogether. There are some instances that do warrant a humble sorry but you shouldn’t say it in every instance, as you might risk over apologizing. Forbes Coaches Council members say that one such instance is when you feel like you’re bugging someone else. But in the case that you did not get your desired outcome, own up to your failure and commit to correcting it. You could try by responding with something like, “That didn’t go as planned, but I will look into an alternative solution instead.”

There are also times when actions speak louder than words, so getting straight to work on undoing the mistake will speak volumes for you.


When you’re taking on a task that’s not part of your job description

What not to say: “It’s not my job.”

What to say instead: “I’d like to help but I don’t think my workload permits it right now.”

If a co-worker asks for your help with something that’s beyond your original job description, you don’t have to jump at the task by saying yes all the time, especially if gets in the way of completing your own work. If you don’t have the time, state it simply as it is: “I would like to help but I don’t think my workload permits it right now.” If you do have the time, provide a timeframe in which you accommodate the task.

When someone follows up on a deliverable

What not to say: “I’m on it!”

What to say instead: “I’ll get to it as soon as I get the chance.”

Don’t make promises you can’t keep by saying you’ll get to work on a task right now. Similarly, it’s not wise to drop everything you’re presently doing in order to fulfill that deliverable. Make a quick mental (or physical) laundry list and weigh the importance of each of task. If that deliverable is not time-sensitive or not yet past its deadline, tell them you’ll get it to them within the agreed timeline. If it is past its deadline, take it as a lesson to manage your time more carefully. 


When you need a co-worker’s help 

What not to say: “I need help on this.”

What to say instead: “I need your assistance.”

Professor Bernard Roth of Stanford University’s recommends that you swap the word “help” with the word “assist.” By admitting you need help with something, you sound unable to complete a task, as the word is often associated with helplessness. By asking for someone’s assistance, or even advice, it will seem like you will complete the task regardless of your co-worker’s involvement but you simply need the additional input.

About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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