With thanks to leadership coach Todd Dewett and his Lynda.com Class Management Tips.  

Most of us work hard at our jobs. We care about it. We want to do our best, advance our careers, and continue to support ourselves and our families. So do you really want to jeopardize all of that by saying something you shouldn’t?

Of course not. And yet people make seemingly innocuous comments all the time that inadvertently impede their career and hurt the morale of everyone around them. While there are many examples of this, leadership coach Todd Dewett highlighted five of the most common phrases of this type. They are:

  1. “That’s not my job.”

When it’s used: Someone asks you for help for a task that is outside your core job description and you don’t really want to do. Rather than spend some time helping or just saying no, you say this instead.

And immediately regret it.

What people hear when you say it: “I’m out for myself only.”

A better option: If you don’t have time to help someone at that moment, tell them you can’t do it or you can do it later. But don’t say it isn’t your job; ultimately, your job is to help your organization win, so helping where you can is part of your job.


  1. “We’ve tried that before.”

When it’s used: Someone—generally someone who has been with the company for less time than you—suggests an idea. Instead of providing historical context and hearing them out, you shut them down with this phrase.

What people hear when you say it: Either “I don’t want to put the effort in” or “I know everything and you know nothing,” neither one of which is particularly beneficial.

A better option: Hear them out. Maybe what’s being proposed has been tried, but wasn’t done well. So let the past experience inform your next move, but keep in mind there’s always room for a new approach.

  1. “There’s no budget for that.”

When it’s used: A person has an idea they are really passionate about. Similar to the last example, rather than hear it out and weigh the merit, you shut it down by saying there’s no money.

What people hear when you say it: “Keep your head down and do what’s expected.”

A better option: Great ideas should be funded, or perhaps there is a way to do it with a minimal budget. But killing every new idea with “there’s no budget for it” is a surefire way to destroy your team’s creativity.

  1. “I told you so.”

When it’s used: A colleague has an idea, and you say it is a bad idea, and they do it anyway. They fail. As if that isn’t enough, you pile on top of them with this.

What people hear when you say it: “I was actively rooting against you.”

A better option: “I told you so” has never helped anyone, and the person almost assuredly realizes that. A better option here is simple—silence.

  1. “That doesn’t follow procedure.”

When it’s used: Someone has an idea that doesn’t jibe with the standard way your company has traditionally done things.

What people hear when you say it: “There’s only one way to do things here.”

A better option: Most rules are not absolute and, if a procedure is blocking progress, change it. Blindly adhering to the way things have always been done destroys innovation and motivation.

Final thought

Your career’s success largely depends on how well you communicate with other people. Even if you are doing your specific job well, if your attitude is unintentionally poor or you are bringing others down, your career is going to suffer.
Of course, no one does that on purpose, but these five phrases can be accidental and result in the same outcome. So avoid these five phrases and let your great work be what people remember most about you.

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Dexcomm is a Louisiana-based corporation that provides answering services to businesses and service agencies across the United States. We have been open since 1954, employ a staff of roughly 80 people, and our average client retention rate is 10+ years.

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