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Office Etiquette: 10 Things to Never Say at Work

Think before you speak. Always. And avoid saying these ten phrases at work.  [TWEET]

For many of us, our workplace is where we spend the majority of our time. Spending that much time in one place makes it easy to let your guard down and forget office etiquette. It’s your job – your career. Having friends and confidants at work can be a good thing, but you have to remember to maintain professional behavior in the workplace. 

Don’t let these simple little career-killing phrases pass your lips or you could lose some of those friends and hurt your professional reputation.

1. “We’ve always done it this way.”

While you may be right, what others hear (and they may be your bosses) is that you are resistant to change. Why is that a bad thing for office etiquette? Progress simply can’t happen if people aren’t willing to at least entertain the idea of changing things. Always remember, just because your company has done things one way in the past, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Not that long ago we all used the phone book, too.

Say This Instead: “What are the benefits of trying this new method?” If the new way is better, they should be able to tell you why. If not, this is your chance to say why you believe in the current method. “Because that’s how we’ve always done it” isn’t a reason.

2. “This will only take a second/minute.”

This one is a double whammy. First of all, it’s not true. It’s never true. Even saying “This will only take a few minutes” is much better. Secondly, when asking someone to do a task for you, saying this will automatically trump objections and declare that what you have to say or show is more important than what the other person is working on. Be considerate when disrupting someone else’s work flow.

Say This Instead: “Let me know when you have a few minutes to chat. I want to show you something.” This more professional behavior in the workplace lets the other person have some say as to whether or not right now is the best time to spare a few minutes.

3. “That’s not my job.”

It’s happened to everyone. The boss asks you to do something that is either beneath your position or simply not related at all to what you do. But, when you pull the “It’s not my job” card, you’re calling yourself out as not a team player. For proper office etiquette, try to think of these situations differently. Rather than dwelling on the nuisance of doing something you don’t think is your responsibility, think of it as an opportunity to show your versatility and willingness to cooperate.

Say this instead: “Sure. I’m not sure I’ve done that before, but I’ll take care of that for you.” Embrace the opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone and expand your career.

4. “It’s not fair.”

Hearing this at the office makes anyone think of a schoolyard playground. What does the supervisor at the playground say? “Life’s not always fair.” In short, get over it. Life isn’t fair. Saying this is not professional behavior in the workplace and makes you come across as immature. If you are being given more work than your counterparts, think of it as an opportunity to set yourself apart. However, if things are really lopsided and you feel that you are truly being dealt with unfairly, you may need to address it tactfully. A face- to-face sit down with your boss is always better than grumbling to coworkers.

Say this instead: “Could we set aside some time to discuss my performance?” A sit down meeting on performance will usually help clear the air and help you work together moving forward.

5. “I’ll Try”

Saying “I’ll try” is basically the same as saying “I can’t do it.” Whether you’re up against time constraints or other obstacles, saying this comes across a bit passive-aggressive. You’re implying that you’ve been given an unachievable task but you’re going to accept it anyway. No boss wants to hear that. Either give it your best, honest effort, or discuss viable alternatives if it truly is an impossible task. Don’t set yourself up for failure.

Say this instead: “I may need to enlist some help to meet that deadline, but I’ll get this covered.” It’s honest, but it also says that you’ll get it done.

6. “I can’t stand my boss.”

Yikes. It can be really easy to think that your co-workers are on your side, but you never know when you’ve let your negative feelings slip to the wrong person. You’d be amazed how fast this type of thing gets around an office. Once it makes its way back to your boss – and it will – you’ll be faced with an awkward conversation or a boss that will simply write you off. It could even cost you your job outright. Besides, maybe it’s not your boss’s fault. Are you giving it your best effort?

Say this instead: “You seem to get along great with your boss. What’s your secret?” Take the opportunity to work on your workplace relationship skills and office etiquette.

7. “You look tired today. Are you okay?”

Golden rule time. You’ve probably had this happen to you and what was your first thought? “Wow. I must really look terrible today. I feel fine.” Play it safe and don’t comment on a co-worker’s appearance. You may feel like you’re just being friendly and caring, but what the other person hears is a judgement.

Say this instead: “I’m heading to the break room for a refreshment. Want to come along?” Maybe they’re just really focused or stressed and could use a short break – or some coffee.

8. “You’re all dressed up today! Have job interview somewhere?”

Sometimes you wake up and just feel like adding a little pizzazz to your day through your wardrobe. Why not? When you say this to a co-worker, you’re implying that the other person doesn’t care enough about their current job to dress up for it, they don’t usually dress that nice, or you suspect they’re actually trying to leave the company. What if they actually do have an interview? Awkward.

Say this instead: “You look nice today.” That is, if you feel very comfortable in your office environment. Complimenting a coworker on appearance can be dicey any time. It’s probably best office etiquette to just leave it alone.

9. “You’re how old?”

It happens all the time. You learn how old a co-worker is and you just can’t believe it. However, this is a tricky situation. If they are younger than you thought, you’ve just declared that they look older. If they are older than you thought, you’ve hinted at their maturity or experience level. Not cool.

Say this instead: “I’m very impressed by your knowledge/experience.” To maintain professional behavior in the workplace, leave age out of it.

10. “Are you pregnant?”

Go ahead and take this advice for the workplace AND outside the workplace. Just never ask this question. If someone is pregnant it is for them to tell you when and if they choose. By asking this you risk letting the cat out of the bag or, worse yet, being completely wrong. If you are wrong, things get really uncomfortable.

Say this instead: “So, how about that weather?” Anything. Say anything other than asking if she is pregnant. Period.

Remember, the office is where you work and you need to maintain a professional attitude. Even though you may feel very close with your coworkers or your boss, it’s wise to keep your mouth in check so that everything you say will promote your professionalism, not hurt it.

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!