Sounding confident and knowledgeable at work is a good thing, but sometimes we can say things that we think highlight our value as employees, but actually give the impression that we’re pretentious or insecure.
Of course, a lot of it comes down to your tone, the context, and the specific situation, but there are certain phrases that are almost always the wrong choice in a workplace setting. Here’s what to know.
According to Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras, authors of the book “You’re Saying It Wrong,” and hosts of the NPR podcast of the same name, there’s a fine line between sounding confident and arrogant at work.
Using a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they’ve come up with this list of phrases that they say tend to come across as arrogant, and, in most cases, should be avoided at work:
- “I don’t mean to brag, but …” — Great, then don’t brag.
- “I already knew that …” (or “Doesn’t everyone know that?”) — Everyone’s lived experiences are different, so no.
- “I’m pretty sure that …” — It’s usually better to say that you don’t know something than to attempt to guess or make something up.
- “No offense, but ….” — Saying that does nothing to soften whatever comes next.
- Overusing “I” (or “me) — Chances are, it’s not all about you.
- “Oh, I’m just kidding!” — This passive-aggressive way to insult someone doesn’t give you permission to say whatever you want. See also: “No offense, but….”
- “You probably don’t know this, but …” — Just share the piece of information without the insulting disclaimer.
- “If I were you, I’d ….” — Did someone specifically ask you what you would do if you were in their position? If not, then leave this phrase out.
Instead of using the phrases above, the Petrases recommend these general approaches to workplace communication:
- Genuinely listen to your colleagues and consider their perspectives, rather than assuming and asserting that you’re always right. And don’t interrupt them when they’re speaking.
- Get out of the habit of talking just for the sake of it, because you think it makes you sound knowledgeable or confident. Your contributions to a conversation will have more of an impact if you’re actually adding something new or helpful.
- Ask other people about their experiences, rather than making everything about you and yours. The same goes for opinions: Just because you have one, it doesn’t mean you need to share it.
- Use more inclusive terms like “we” and “our” instead of “I,” “me,” or “my” to at least make it sound like you’re a team player.
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