If you are working in a professional environment, you probably dress for it. That might not mean wearing a suit and tie every day to work, but at the very least you are probably giving yourself a look over in the mirror before you walk out the door each morning to ensure that your clothes are wrinkle- and stain-free. You know that if you show up to work in a stained shirt and wrinkled trousers, it’s going to help you appear unprofessional no matter how good you are or how much you love your job.

Are you giving your communication skills the same attention? Your communication skills could be even more important than your physical appearance in the work environment, but so many people neglect this skill set. It could end up creating friction with their coworkers, costing them potential clients, or even causing them to be overlooked for promotions and advancement opportunities. In almost every case, they won’t know what the problem is.

That’s why it’s so important to continue to expand your communication skill set. It can help you effectively communicate with coworkers, clients, and your managers and identify problems in your communications that you wouldn’t otherwise know existed.

One of the first things you can do to enhance your communication skills is to examine the language you are using in a professional setting. The professional world is run by words. We rely on emails, reports, and presentations to pass information. If the words that you are using come off as unprofessional, it can cause those listening to you to tune out and dismiss your ideas, even if at their core they are great ones.

We’ve worked with many clients on building better communication skills, and there are a number of common phrases that we see people using at work that can help them come across as unprofessional. Check out these 10 phrases and ask yourself if you’ve been using them in your professional communications. If you are, it’s time to find an alternative and ditch the unprofessional jargon.

9 Phrases You Should Stop Using at Work

”Sorry I’m late.”

Everyone runs late occasionally, and there is nothing wrong with apologizing for it when it happens. The issue here is running late becomes your normal mode. Lateness is a kind of selfishness where you assume that your time is more important than everyone else’s. In the business world, time is money. If you are always costing people their time, they aren’t going to want to work with you.

The alternative: If you are going to be late, communicate your anticipated arrival time with whoever you are meeting. If being late starts to become a habit, it’s up to you to change your behavior, not up to everyone else to wait around for you.

”Did you hear what happened?”

The business world isn’t a place for gossip. A lot of offices are hotbeds of gossip, but the most professional workplaces keep a lid on it. It’s not communicating; it’s just wasting time. If you need to pass along information, do it in a professional manner instead of gossiping in whispers at a coworkers desk.

The alternative: Only pass along information to people who need to know it for their job. If it’s something that everyone needs to know, do it through open communication means like a stand-up meeting, memo, or group email.

”I forgot.”

Mistakes happen and in a busy work environment, it can be hard to keep tabs on everything that’s going on. But that’s what you are being paid to do. Telling someone that you forgot is communicating to them that you are irresponsible and their task wasn’t important enough to you to remember.

The alternative: It’s up to you to keep track of the tasks you need to complete, whether that’s by writing them down on a list or developing another methodology that works for you. If you do forget, tell the waiting party that you haven’t been able to get to that yet and ask them when they need it.

”I’m too busy.”

It’s work; everyone is busy. Telling someone that you are too busy communicates that you aren’t capable of prioritizing tasks and unwilling to take on their project. Not only does this help you look unprofessional, but it may also seem like your not a team player.

The alternative: Talk to the requester about their priorities. Something you think is important enough to do today might not really be needed until next week. Communicating what’s currently on your plate and a potential timeline to accomplish their task can tell them how much you have to do without outright dismissing their request.


It’s a vocal tic that most of us have been guilty of having at one time or another, but it’s also hopefully something you outgrow by high school. Using “like” in the middle of every sentence can really downplay your confidence and make it seem like you are thinking off the cuff instead of being prepared.

The alternative: Practice eliminating this word from your vocabulary. If you start to use it in a sentence, pause for a moment and gather your thoughts before continuing.

”That’s how we’ve always done it.”

If you are looking for a good way to shut down communication and innovation, this is it. This phrase is used by people who don’t want to change the status quo. Maybe they are afraid of learning something new or that a change might make their job obsolete. 

The alternative: Use language that fosters an environment of innovation. Nothing can stay the same forever, after all. If you have concerns about a change that’s being proposed, use a phrase like “Let’s explore the ramifications of that idea” or “I love to find better ways to do things. What if we…” and offer your own idea.

”Is that okay?”

All this is communicating is that you are unsure of your statement. If you are saying it to make sure you understand something or need to get someone’s permission, that’s fine. But don’t use it to fish for compliments or because you don’t know how to do your job. You are putting the burden on the other person instead of taking on the responsibility yourself.

The alternative: “Here is what I’m planning…” or “I would like to clarify” are more professional phrases to use. You are taking responsibility for yourself and your actions while still getting the information or permission that you need.

”I’m so tired.”

We all are tired. It’s tough to work in a professional environment, spend time with your family, and make a little time for yourself. There is a good chance that everyone in your office would love to have had an extra hour or two of sleep last night. Telling everyone that you are tired is communicating that you aren’t capable of doing your job.

The alternative: Just don’t talk about how tired you are in the office. If you are genuinely that tired, it’s up to you to make some lifestyle changes to ensure you have the energy to do your job.

”That’s not my job.”

This is the number one way to kill effective communication in the workplace and demonstrate your un-professionalism. The truth is that it might not be your job, but it’s a job that still needs to be done. Telling someone it’s not your job shuts down all collaboration and teamwork opportunities.

The alternative: If it’s really beyond your skillset, say “I think so-and-so is really skilled with that kind of project, let’s go talk to them about it together.” If it’s something you are capable of helping with, say something like “Where do you see me helping with that?” Using good communication skills to determine clear expectations can help you build a more collaborative professional environment and show that you are a person who is willing to jump in anywhere.


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