When you tell your colleagues that you need to “circle back” on a “win-win” solution so that you can give the project “110%,” recognize that your coworkers’ eyes have already glazed over and they have tuned your ideas out.
According to a new survey that looked at the communication behaviors of 2,000 U.S. workers, there are words that are so overused they have lost meaning in the workplace. In the poll conducted by OnePoll and Jive Communications, researchers found that too many of us are guilty of reflexively using a cliche at work. Seventy-two percent of American workers said they used these phrases out of habit.
But a word of caution to everyone who wants to “push the envelope” — these cliches do not help your case at work. Six in ten employees admitted that they do not even understand what most of our popular office cliches even mean. In fact, 27% of colleagues said they stop listening to you when they hear you say them.
“These phrases definitely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. There’s a reason they’re so well-known and exercised within office spaces. However, overuse has diluted the meaning of many phrases,” John Pope, the senior vice president of Jive Communications, said. “If you’re constantly told to give a project 110%, over time it will lose its power and effect.”
RELATED: Here are 25 things you should never say to a coworker:
"Don't rant and threaten to quit and move out of the country," Randall says. "Leave that to the celebrities."
Topics like politics, religion, ethnicity, and child-rearing will occasionally come up in the workplace, Randall says. But to negatively comment about any group is unwise and unprofessional, and it could get you in trouble for harassment.
Stop. Just don't.
Passionate discussions are to be expected in the workplace, but they should really be focused on work-related issues.
At the end of the day, you're at work to do work, and arguments about whose candidate was better can be distracting to both you and your coworkers. You're not doing your best work when you're more focused on defending your political stances.
Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and author of "The Essentials of Business Etiquette," says that drawing attention to your honesty at that moment can lead people to wonder, "Aren't you always honest with me?"
"Negative comments about a coworker to another coworker will make you look worse than the person you're talking about, and guess who will be the one who looks bad when it gets back to the person you're talking about?" Randall says.
"Why are you saying you're a bother?" Pachter asks.
And if you were truly sorry about something you haven't done yet, why would you go ahead and do it anyway?
"Excuse me. Do you have a moment?" works much better, she says.
"This question is not only unprofessional, but awkward," Randall says. "Why do you want to know? Will you complain to your boss if you find it inequitable? Or will you speak to your boss on your coworker's behalf insisting they get a raise?"
Most of us have forgotten to bring cash or our wallet to work once or twice, and, Randall says, in this rare occasion it might be OK to ask your understanding coworker to borrow some money for lunch.
"But if your wallet is always in your 'other purse,' don't be surprised if you're excluded from future lunches," she says.
A compliment isn't against the law, Randall points out, but be selective about what you compliment.
Commenting about a coworker's physical appearance is considered unprofessional, she says — and worse, could be construed as sexual harassment.
This question rarely results in a positive outcome.
"If your coworker is not pregnant, you have insulted her," Oliver says. "If she is pregnant, she probably isn't ready to discuss it yet. Keep observations like this to yourself."
"Sharing this with your coworkers may cause them to instinctively distance themselves, knowing you will no longer be a part of the team," Randall says.
"They also might unintentionally leak the information to your supervisor, which could explain your lack of productivity and absences, resulting in a poor reference or an invitation to pick up your paycheck earlier than you expected," she says.
"Except for maybe your mom or spouse, no one really wants to see or hear about peculiar rashes or any nausea-inducing medical conditions," Randall says. "Limit your sharing to a cold or headache."
Saying "I think" is sometimes acceptable, but only if you truly are unsure.
"Using 'I think' can make you appear wishy-washy," Pachter says. When you know something, state it directly: "The meeting will be at 3 p.m."
You might as well say, "It should have been me."
"The professional response would be, 'Congratulations,'" Randall says.
Flaunting your luxurious lifestyle with your colleagues may set off a jealousy epidemic, Oliver says. In general, it's best to avoid bragging about how great your life is.
"This is the grown-up world — not everyone will be invited to everything," Randall says. "Besides, are you prepared for the answer?"
"If you mean 'get together,' then say so," Randall says. "In some circles, a 'hook-up' has a sexual connotation, which could land you in a sexual-harassment seminar."
You just admitted to stealing, a cause for termination and, at the very least, loss of trust, Randall says.
"Intimate details about your personal relationships can divulge unfavorable information about you," Randall says.
Sharing intimate details about your love life falls into the "too much information" category, she says, and "if it doesn't enhance your professional image, or enrich workplace relationships, you should keep it to yourself."
Maybe your colleague or boss took credit for your work, but carping about the problem to your coworkers rarely helps, Oliver says. Instead, it's best to address the issue with the person who took credit for your idea.
Really? Sharing is caring and all, but no one at work should be that close.
"Whether the charge is legitimate or not, spreading it around will not serve you well — just ask your attorney," Randall says.
If you're really suing your employer, it's best to conduct yourself with discretion and dignity and continue to perform your duties to the best of your ability. If this becomes impossible, you should consider resigning, Randall says.
"But if this is your go-to threat when you're unhappy about something, stop it!" she says.
"Oh no you didn't! Making a negative or contrary remark about anyone's child is an absolute way to make enemies," Randall says.
Always keep your remarks about a coworker's child or children positive, or keep them to yourself.
You may think that you're giving helpful advice, but unless your coworker has asked you about your gym or how you lost weight, this topic is off limits, Randall says.
Your coworker will likely see your comments as more hurtful than helpful, and hurt feelings make for an awkward work relationship.
For some people, the subject of age is touchy, and, just like assuming someone's pregnant is a huge no-no, making assumptions and comments about someone's age rarely results in a positive outcome, Randall says.
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The top office cliches
While there are many cliches employees can choose from, there are some we use more often than others. Here are the worst offenders:
Give it 110%
Think outside the box
Hammer it out
Throw them under the bus
Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched
Pushing the envelope
Let the cat out of the bag
Let’s circle back
The top cliche — “give it 110%” — was particularly annoying, as one in five workers found it eye-roll worthy. Although these phrases may seem harmless to deploy in your meeting, they can be a crutch against saying words that are specific to your situation. Those are the words that carry more weight.
Next time you want to present an innovative idea, don’t preface it by saying the company needs to think outside the box. Just say what the idea is.