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What Never, Ever to Say in the Workplace
… Plus What to Do if / When You Do!
How to Avoid a “Fergi” Moment!


Ever said the wrong thing and thought you might be in trouble at work, or worse feared getting fired? You’re not alone.

In the moment of a challenging circumstance the following are examples of what not to say and what to say … plus why: 

Don't say: "That's not my job."

Why: If your superior asks you to do something, it is your job.

Instead say: "I'm not sure that should be my priority right now because …" Then have a conversation with your boss about your responsibilities.

Don't say: "This might sound stupid, but..."

Why: Never undermine your ideas by prefacing your remarks with wishy-washy language.

Instead say: “What's on your mind?” It reinforces your credibility to present your ideas with confidence.

Don't say: "I don't have time to talk to you."

Why: It's plain rude, in person or on the phone.

Instead say: "I'm just finishing something up right now. Can I come by when I'm done?" Graciously explain why you can't talk now, and suggest catching up at an appointed time later. Let phone calls go to voice mail until you can give callers your undivided attention.

These tips above are from Real Simple & Expert: Suzanne Bates, president and chief executive officer of Bates Communications, an executive-training firm in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and author of “Speak Like a CEO” (McGraw-Hill, $22) at Amazon ONLY $15.61.

We’ve all had our share of saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment to the wrong person. What’s critical to know in those awkward moments, if you know you already made a comment that was just wrong, is to realize that your next comments are most important.

“What To Say” When You Know You’ve Said Something Wrong   

Like Sarah Ferguson has openly admitted her recent errors, accepting responsibility for an error quickly, even immediately, is most often best and most respected for all parties, plus results in the least negative outcomes.

What can be productive is take an additional positive step beyond an apology.  It is recommended to not be defensive but rather to acknowledge the error by stating “what you should have said.” Then once the other person responds, resist the urge to respond with a defensive comment (which typically will only escalate the problem). Instead, repeatagain that you’re “sorry and (most importantly repeating) what you will say or do the next time if similar circumstance ever reoccur.”

Such humbling and corrective statements neutralize the circumstances by the other party realizing you do understand your error, as it demonstrates that you truly have good intentions.  Your repeated commitment to what you will do in the future is typically all the other party seeks to know -- that you are aware and that you have taken “very mature” full responsibility with your focus being on taking positive correct actions in the future.

Such an approach also takes focus off the negative and focuses your conscious and subconscious mind on what the best approach is for the future.  This pre-sets the stage mentally for you for the future, versus dwelling on the mistake, which only reinforces the negative (as the more the negative circumstances are repeated in your mind the more likely that behavior is to reoccur).

Focusing on the positive and doing all you can to stay focused on the positive will in fact most often turn a negative into a positive win-win situation for all parties going forward.

This, however, does not mean you should ignore or dismiss the issues that occurred, as otherwise the other party will likely only feel a need to tell you what you did wrong and/or reinforce and focus on the negative to assure clarity in an attempt to not have these circumstances repeated.

This Same Approach Works Well With Children

Thinking back to when you were a child do you recall ever having said or done the wrong thing and the error was magnified by your parents’ and/or your reaction? Also then is it possible that months or years later similar circumstances occurred during which you displayed similar behavior that possibly left you confused as to why you did this again even though you knew better?

Such repeated undesirable behavior is often due to the fact that the first circumstances were so strongly embedded in your subconscious that the response to the circumstances became a subconscious reflex response.

In reprimanding your children or even coworkers, if you focus on what should have been done and ask them to focus on what they should have done by asking them in a nice non-attacking way to state and repeat what they should have done and what they will do in the future, then the focus becomes on the future desired behavior and results (versus reinforcing in their subconscious the negative behavior).

We have found the positive focus approach works as well in raising children as it does in improving relationships in the workplace.

Such conversations place the focus on reinforcing the desired future actions and ideal productive results (versus reinforcing the problem and negative). This is admittedly difficult for many people to do at first, yet this change in approach is most often very productive and reduces stress for you and all participants.

SixWise Ways!
SixWise Says ...

Things no one wants said about themselves at work… especially by influential colleagues:

“Should go far, and the sooner the better.”

“Has delusions of adequacy.”

Best ways I found to avoid the above include:

Once I “get a lesson,” I accept it as I then know I will never repeat it… “if” I’m focused on “what I should have done” and literally state to those I offended “what I should have done” and then I state again “what I will do the next time.”

Accept responsibility fully… avoiding the temptation of denial or self-deprivation as they only reinforce the wrong vs. refocusing on what is knowingly the right thing to have done and do in the future. 

Manifestations dishonor one’s self by allowing egocentric fear to dominate losing one’s authentic integrity and self-worth.

Recommended Reading

The Top Seven Signs that Someone is Lying to You

Are You Being Bullied at Work? 12 Telltale Signs and What to Do About It

Profanity: How Often Do People Use It and Can It Be Beneficial?

10 Ways to Make Your Job More Enjoyable


Daniel Robin & Associates

Suzanne Bates, author of “Speak Like a CEO”  

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