Certain words and phrases are career kryptonite. Learn to recognize and avoid them.

Share story

No doubt you’ve heard the axiom, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

But you know what? Sometimes it is what you say. Words all by themselves can be quite powerful. They are especially so in the workplace, where you are evaluated and judged by the things you say every day.

Make sure your words aren’t holding you back by avoiding these common career killers.

“It’s not my problem” or “It’s not my fault.” First, a problem in the workplace is everybody’s problem! Second, human nature is weird. Saying that something is not your fault often has the effect of making people suspect it is. In any case, the real issue here is that something went wrong and needs to be fixed. Focus on that.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“I can only do one thing at a time.” You may mean this as only a jest, but the truth is that it sounds like whining. Worse, it gives people the impression you don’t think you’re up to the job. Be careful with humor! It can lighten the mood; it can also tick people off.

“It is what it is.” This little phrase sounds clever and is popular right now, but it’s really just another way of saying, “I give up.” Sure, sometimes we really do have to accept the things we cannot change. But at work, in particular, you shouldn’t be going down without a fight.

“That’s not my job.” Even if a task is in fact not in your job description, pointing this out is guaranteed to annoy any boss. Are unreasonable demands being made of you? Say, “Sure, I can help. Right now I’m doing X, Y and Z. Which of these can we let slide while I address our new priority?”

“It’s not fair.” Whatever “it” is, you can be sure it isn’t fair. Much in life isn’t. Injustices happen every day, very often to us personally. You don’t need to point it out. We are all already aware.

“I work alone.” Not only is this unlikely (everyone and everything are connected), it’s undesirable. Working in teams is how most of humankind’s major achievements have been realized. Pretending you don’t need anybody is only fooling yourself, and annoying your colleagues.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.