Education

10 phrases that can change your career

A few straightforward expressions can make the difference between building a good relationship and coming across like a jerk.

A few straightforward expressions can make the difference between building a good relationship and coming across like a jerk.


More people get into trouble by opening up their mouths than any other way. Don't believe me? Think about all the times you've screwed up in your career, or even in your personal life, and think about the most common cause.

Okay, so actions count a lot too. I get it. But you have to admit, what you say and how you say it carries a lot of weight in life. And it can make all the difference in your career and your business.

Unfortunately, most of us weren't born with the management communications gene nor had the benefit of an executive coach to mentor us on the finer points of "soft skills." Looking back at the early days of my management career, it's almost shocking how demeaning and arrogant I sounded at times.

You know what I'm talking about. You know how it feels when it happens to you.

You show up at your boss's door with a cheery, "Hi there; got a minute?"

He slowly looks up from his desk and in a steely tone says, "What is it now?"

Or worse, he's got that annoyed look on his face, as if to say, "What the hell is an insignificant gnat like you doing bothering an important big-shot like me?"

The truth is that managers who act that way are shooting their own careers in the foot. Nothing demoralizes and demeans employees or causes customers and investors to lose confidence and run for the hills faster than when an executive acts like a rude, self-important jerk who thinks he's God's gift to business.

Now, I'm not saying you should sugarcoat how you feel, be apologetic when you're not, or use politically correct euphemisms like "with all due respect" all the time. That does more harm than good. But you can be genuine, honest, and straightforward without sounding like a self-centered, disrespectful moron.

Here are 10 phrases that, when used in the proper context (which I'm sure you can figure out), will enable you to expediently get to the heart of an issue while showing genuine respect for the other person's perspective.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: "You may be right, but here's how I see it..." 2: "Tell me what's working and what's not working." 3: "What do you think we should be doing differently?" 4: "Give it to me straight; no BS." 5: "Please don't tell me what __ thinks; I'd like to know what you think." 6: "What does your gut tell you?" 7: "How can I help you?" 8: "That may be true, but look at it this way... " 9: "Don't worry; I've got plenty of time." 10: "How would you do it?"

More than words

Of course, how you act should match your speech. Great leaders behave in a relaxed and confident manner and never take themselves too seriously. The object is to set the other person at ease. When you're with someone else, you should:

  • Give your full undivided attention.
  • Let your sense of humor shine through.
  • Show some humility, as opposed to arrogance.

And never, ever accept a phone call or an interruption unless it's a true emergency. If you're expecting an important call or have an upcoming appointment, let the other person know in advance.

Sure, there's a knack to this sort of thing. But once you get the hang of it, you'll be amazed at the effect these skills will have on your career and your business.


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24 comments
darpoke
darpoke

- if they're paid, say 20% or 40% more than I am, then their time is commensurately more valuable. This difference is what allows a manager to come over and interrupt you to say something, while convention may dictate that you ask if they are free before you open a dialogue with them. Consider that 'are you busy?' is a courtesy that conveys the understanding that what the hearer does is important and if this time is inconvenient, then the subject matter is non time-critical enough that it can wait until later. In this respect it may be said by either manager or subordinate. As I stated above, however, the different role each plays in their relationship influences for whom it is most appropriate. I've always respected my managers enough to query when appropriate, but I suspect I've simply been lucky to have managers I respect.

cbader
cbader

Thats one thats worked well for me on a number of occasions.

Klasszlady
Klasszlady

Let's sit down and see what we can come up with.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

This one can be dynamite. It grabs the other person's attention, and often provokes a reply like "what did you say?" But for anything ranging from nonchalant, like "How are you doing?" to the very serious like "what do you think of this?" - you immediately separate the glad-handers from the communicators - and forewarn them that they might not like what they hear. BE CAREFUL! This phrase certainly can "change your career," but which direction your career changes is up to you.

rampono
rampono

There are those few exceptions who do say "How can I help you?" OR "don't worry, I've got plenty of time" in the correct context, but turn around and bad mouth you to somebody else. My opinion is if you just keep your trap shut, open it only when asked and let your work speak for you, life at work could be so much easier.

Ron K.
Ron K.

While not a phrase my career really changed.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

until I see that what they do matches it. Note this does not happen too often.... I love steely looks, means they are paying attention. It's the vacant nod, meaningless platitude and bugger all else until scapegoat time that bothers me. Shooting the messenger is for wimps.

jck
jck

I really need to be self-employed. If my employees can't shoot straight with me, how can I handle things in a timely manner?

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

You show up at your boss's door with a cheery, "Hi there; got a minute??" This is an employee no-no. If you do this, what you are saying is that you have nothing critical or important to share, and you think that your boss might be working on something trivial enough that you might be able to interrupt it. Your boss - if he's any good (and why would you want to talk to him if he weren't) is probably swamped doing a job that is just as important as yours. Yes, he may act casually, open and friendly, and may have said he has an open door policy, but if you abuse it, either he or you may be looking for a new job. Your boss has the right to interrupt your work, but probably doesn't do it unless there's something critical to discuss. You can assume that if he does so, it's important. The same isn't true of you. A cheery causal greeting from you can't be assumed to signal that there's something important you want to say. If you have something to discuss, and it's time critical, SAY SO. "Excuse me boss. I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's an emergency, and I thought you would like to know about right away." Convey your feelings by FEELING the - they will show in your expression and tine of voice. If it ISN'T time-critical, send an email first. If it isn't returned within a reasonable amount of time, follow it with a phone message indicating what you want to talk about. Over time,your boss will come to recognize that you don't interrupt him unless it's important, and may tell you that you don't have to be so formal. Until that happens, don't assume.

RipVan
RipVan

"Someone is going to go to jail here, let's get a story together and make sure it isn't us..."

shumaker
shumaker

Unfortunately the workplace is littered with them though, perhaps because they make an easy target for the wimps. Life expectancy is measured in minutes at some locations. back to patching bullet holes now..... s2

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

"But, I'm self-employed!" It's the perfect answer to the little voice in your head that says, "Kill your boss." :D

gharlow
gharlow

Self employment is the best thing I ever did. The whole business of trying to navigate a minefield of corporate politics etc. makes me sick. I believe asking your employer if he has a minute is a courtesy, and have never taken offense when he replies he is busy, can it wait till later. If the servers are down and the NOC is on fire, I might say so, but in general I need feedback on an important project question, so if this is bad, forget it!

santeewelding
santeewelding

For the pure sake of self employment is pointless.

egray
egray

Tiptoeing around obscure protocol makes for a miserable work life. Here's a better three rules: 1. Work someplace where you respect all your coworkers, including your boss. 2. Be polite (and, where possible, friendly), with everyone. 3. Be scrupulously honest about everything. It's not that complicated.

Hal_9001
Hal_9001

You've got to be kidding or your a supervisor. Few, if any, employees are coming to their boss for a causal moment. Somehow, an employee must walk the thin line that shows his boss, he is worth keeping or promoting.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

A boss who can't take time to talk to his people is a waste of office space. If they are a man manger, that is their job. Can't for the life of me think why I'd assume what my boss was doing was more important than what I was. I mean if I've taken time out to talk, either I've come to ask for work because I've run out or there is an issue with what I'm working on that I can't solve. Either one should get them directly off their facebook page and bloody working. Formal or informal is a choice based onbthe most effective way to interact. It should be sorted out mutually, otherwise you aren't interacting. Tug's forelock, moves on....

jck
jck

but for the betterment of self. Why would I want to mask the truth from my boss simply because the time doesn't seem appropriate or that I can't say it according to a standard. If my employee stuttered, paused or stammered too long, should I ignore their approach to me about an issue? If the workplace demands timesliced bits for issues to be resolved in only, then I'm in the wrong profession. Risk mitigation and planning is to be done before execution, not during crisis handling or implementation. I think it's a case by case thing, not something for a "template" to be pressed upon.

xcav8r369
xcav8r369

You're kidding, right? The place you describe doesn't exist. And #3. is SURE to get you either fired or put on the poo-poo list in a hurry.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I am as good a "Me" as I choose to be. Free will, instead of destiny. It's just a decision.

santeewelding
santeewelding

May neither be created nor destroyed. Or, improved, for that matter. You may go now.

jck
jck

no one said my job is only to better the employer ... ;) Besides, not thinking of ones self is self-destructive. You must oil the wheels if you want the whole wagon to keep moving. :)

santeewelding
santeewelding

"...betterment of self", is also a declaration of self as subject to relative persuasion either way. That can get you into a heap of trouble, too. (trails off into self, being, and all that stuff...)

egray
egray

it's time to change jobs. Seriously, if you take your work seriously, why work somewhere that requires you bullsh%t? Granted, every job requires diplomacy. But if courtesy and honesty are really not an option, you're in the wrong job. Life's too short.

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