“I’m going to give you some coaching.”
That was my boss’s opening before he tried to offer some ham-handed advice that was largely unrelated to the issue at hand. Although after that initial statement, there are few things he could have said that wouldn’t have been met with my immediate scorn and derision.
He meant well. It was just a poor choice of words. Which, if you work with people, tends to happen a lot. Generally people mean to say the right thing. But they invariably end up saying the wrong thing.
With that in mind, I started a log in early 2020 of ill-advised statements made at work. Below are my favorites. And if you find yourself venturing near any of them, take heed.
- “I have a lot of big plans.” Great. When are you actually going to do something? Don’t confuse intention with action. No one cares about the former until it becomes the latter.
- “I didn’t have time.” Yes. You did. But you chose not to make it a priority. Own your priorities or change them.
- “That’s not my job.” Your job is to help the team succeed. It’s to get things done. We’ll worry about job descriptions later.
- “You wouldn’t understand.” Or maybe you don’t understand well enough to explain it.
- “That’s just how we do things here.” You mean that you don’t know why. Doing something poorly for a long time is not an acceptable reason to keep doing it that way.
- “I’ll start that tomorrow.” Will you really? Or are you letting your procrastinating self run the show?
- “I could have done it better.” Maybe. But you didn’t. Next time do it and do it better. Until then, keep your mouth shut.
- “I’m a big-picture person.” Wow. Then I guess we can excuse you from doing all that stuff we call work.
- “I’m just doing what I was told.” The standard excuse for anyone unwilling to take accountability. If your best skill is doing what you’re told, it’s not much of a skill.
- “But how does it scale?” Unless you’re giving some well-deserved props to Sarah Cooper, the best way to do things that scale is by first doing things that don’t.
- “Don’t confuse my kindness with weakness.” Did you practice this line in the mirror? Get over yourself.
- “But what if it fails?” Maybe it will. There’s only one way to find out.
- “I can’t forgive you.” By all means, hold on to that grudge. But it does more damage to you than anyone else.
- “Use some common sense.” Whenever someone asks why you didn’t use common sense, they’re really asking why you didn’t think like them. Common sense rarely means the same thing to everyone.
- “That was my idea.” Yeah? And what did you do with that idea? Until you execute, it doesn’t mean anything.
- “It is what it is.” Maybe it’s true. But the more likely scenario is that you’re trying to avoid acknowledging the actions that created the situation in the first place.
- “Fake it ’til you make it.” It just sounds exhausting. Imposter syndrome is tough enough without feeding it unnecessarily.
- “I can’t.” You mean you don’t want to. You mean you don’t think it’s worth the sacrifice. You mean that you won’t. But can’t? No, I don’t believe that.
- “We have a chain of command for a reason.” If your communication structure mimics your organizational chart, you’re operating in the wrong century. Strong teams never stifle communication.
- “She’s just not management material.” You mean she doesn’t fit your own narrow, biased view.
- “Underpromise and overdeliver.” I’m not interested in your underpromises. Call me when you’re ready to overpromise and then overdeliver.
- “Let’s metricize that.” Yeah, what gets measured gets managed. But let’s try not to make Drucker roll over in his grave.
- “I don’t have time for this.” Then why are you doing it? What you mean is that you didn’t plan for it. Whose fault is that?
- “It’s impossible.” Well then why don’t you just crawl under your desk and cry while the rest of us work on solving the problem. Everything’s impossible until it isn’t. Get out of the way.
- “We’re on a slippery slope.” Ugh. Someone, somewhere, just won their buzzword bingo game.
- “We’ve always done it that way.” Well okay then. I suppose we shouldn’t consider doing it a better way.
- “I’ll take that extended warranty.” Or just flush your money down the toilet. Whichever’s easier.
- “That’s our policy.” It’s amazing how many policies are designed to make things unhelpful. Those whose best function is to defend unhelpful policies will be the first jobs replaced by robots.
- “Know your role.” Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses. After that, your role is what you choose to make it.
- “Guess what I just heard…” Yes, Yuval Noah Harari makes a compelling case for gossip in Sapiens. But in general, the office gossip never garners a lot of respect.
- “You misunderstood.” If I misunderstood, it’s because you didn’t explain it well enough.
- “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Typical management-speak that is helpful to absolutely no one.
- “I’ll have the muffin because I’m eating healthy.” Do yourself a favor and look at the ingredients.
- “But I have seniority.” Seniority — the last refuge of the untalented. If you’re best claim is that you’ve been sitting around here the longest, that shouldn’t entitle you to anything.
- “He’s a born leader.” The myth of the born leader needs to end. It discourages would-be leaders from developing into the role.
- “That’ll never work.” Anyone can complain. Try offering a suggestion to go along with it.
- “Sorry, not sorry.” If your goal was to sound like a twelve-year-old social media addict, then mission accomplished.
- “What’s in it for me?” Yeah, we all think it from time to time. But have the decency to keep this thought to yourself.
- “You should be ashamed.” When people make a mistake, they generally know it. Rubbing it in their face is more about propping up your ego than helping them improve.
- “I’m so bored.” People who are most often bored are most often boring. Find something to do. There are plenty of options.
- “I just don’t like it.” That’s not helpful. If you’re not going to provide actionable advice, keep your mouth shut.
- “That’s not my fault.” You’re probably right. Rarely are things 100% your fault. But they’re also rarely 0% either. Which part is more helpful to focus on?
- “I’m underutilized.” Then find a way to start adding more value. That’s on you.
- “Mistakes were made.” Stop practicing for some future political career. Accountability is a virtue.
- “Maybe it will get better on its own.” This tends to be implied more than actually said. Yet if you’re living with deficiencies, you’re setting yourself up for future headaches. Things rarely get better on their own. Hoping for it isn’t optimism. It’s delusion.
- “I’m so busy.” No one cares. Everyone’s busy. Reminding people of it comes across as a humble brag.
- “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” It’s a great strategy if you want people to sit on their problems. Most issues don’t have that kind of time.
- “That’s not fair.” It’s amazing how often you can still hear Life’s not fair and nobody ever promised that it would be.
- “Nom nom nom… (eating sounds).” With the increase in video and teleconferences, people are more comfortable eating while talking. Stop it. No one wants to hear you chewing.
- “Because I’m the boss.” Maybe you are. But that title doesn’t mean anything unless you can back it up with performance.
- “We deliver the highest quality, have the best customer service, etc.” These statements only carry weight if their used by your customers to describe you. Not by you to describe yourself.
- “Stay in your swim lane.” Real impacts are made by those willing to venture out of their comfort areas. Not by those constrained within them.
And one more to kick off 2021, with hopefully a much smaller list going forward:
53. “People should just be happy to have a job.” No. We don’t want people to feel happy about simply having a job. That bar is too low. If we can’t offer them worthwhile challenges and opportunities for growth within a positive culture, then we have more work to do.