Software

10 stupid things I've heard people say

We've all heard people make dumb remarks -- and that's often good for a laugh. But reflecting on such verbal missteps also serves as a reminder to watch what we say.

You have probably come across people who have said stupid things. You may have wondered how someone could say something so silly -- and you might still remember and laugh about it. Here are 10 examples I have run across. When read here, they are funny. But when you say them on the job, you could endanger your career or reputation.

1: "If Tanya did that, she's in big trouble"

Dissing someone to a third party always carries risks. Doing so is even riskier when the person being dissed is the assistant to the boss. Are you thinking no one is this stupid? Think again.

I once called the headquarters of a major company and reached Tanya (not her real name, of course), the assistant to the CIO of the company. After I explained why I was calling, Tanya gave me the name and contact information of a director, who was on the CIO's staff. In other words, the CIO was this director's boss.

When I called this director and explained how I got his contact information, the director freaked out at me and badmouthed Tanya. I ended the conversation and then contacted Tanya again to tell her what had happened. Weeks later, I discovered that this director had left, or been asked to leave, the company.

2: "Your wish is totally unnecessary"

Someone once responded via email to an immigration topic I had posted, saying that I was wrong. The person's email then went on to precisely state the same thing I had stated in my post. In other words, his refutation made no sense at all. After several back and forth exchanges, which became increasingly snippety on his part, I finally told him that regardless, I appreciated his taking the time to contact me and that I wished him all the best.

He responded that my wish was unnecessary.

3: "We have an in-house Titanic expert and have no need for outside speakers"

A few years ago, I contacted a local university about the possibility of speaking about the recovery and burial of Titanic victims. The person I contacted gave me this response, referring to one of their professors, who also had done research on Titanic.

Upon hearing this answer, one has to wonder if they would similarly have turned down, for example, the son of survivor Richard Norris Williams; Dr. Ryan Parr, who through DNA analysis identified the "Unknown Child of the Titanic"; or Dr. Robert Ballard, who in 1985 discovered the wreckage of Titanic.

4: "[The boss] went home to take a nap"

I plead guilty.

During a summer of college, I worked at a camp as the assistant to the director. One day, not feeling well, he said that would go home to take a nap. Later that day, his own boss called, and I told him exactly what the director had told me. A week or so later, during an event at the camp, I met my boss's boss, and he privately and good-naturedly told me that I "should never admit that [my] boss is mortal."

5 and 6: "I just sent the report out to our clients; I hope my boss likes it"

Using ammonia by itself is great when cleaning. Using chlorine bleach by itself is great when cleaning. However, combining the two might be unwise.

Telling people that you just distributed a report to your clients is fine, because it shows your diligence and perseverance. Telling people that you hope your boss likes your report is fine, because it shows that you seek the boss's approval for your report. However, putting the two statements in tandem indicates that you have given your boss a fait accompli. That is, you are saying that even before getting the boss's approval or review, you sent out the report. Now, after the fact, you hope the boss is okay with the report.

Saying these statements I tandem is bad enough. Saying it on Twitter or Facebook is 10 times worse.

7: "Please get help and try later"

The only thing worse than a user-unfriendly voicemail system is one with obnoxious announcements. If you press the wrong key too many times while in an Audix voicemail system, the "Audix lady" will give you this condescending message, then hang up on you. Far better instead to route the caller to the receptionist or to a general voicemail box.

8: "No, it's NOT okay"

Years ago, when my second daughter was still young and cell phones were rare, the two of us were in downtown Philadelphia. I needed to make a call, so we entered a retirement home apartment building that had a pay phone. We had been to this building many times, because an elderly friend, now deceased, lived there. As I picked up the phone to begin to dial, I noticed a security guard approach us, as if to ask if we needed help. I nodded and smiled to him and said, "It's okay." Upon hearing my words, the guard glared at both us and said "No, it's NOT okay." I got the message -- that we were not supposed to use the pay phone -- and we left.

I later wrote to the executive director of the organization that managed this apartment to outline my concerns: that the phone and lobby gave no indication that the phone was only for resident use and that as frequent visitors, we had a reasonable expectation of being able to use the phone. Of course, I also mentioned the rudeness of the guard. I received a profuse apology, and I never saw that guard again at the building.

9: "PMS"

I once had a co-worker who had a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth. Once, during a training session on conflict management, we saw a short video in which a female office worker berated a male colleague over sloppy work.

When the video ended, my co-worker's first words were, "PMS."

10:  慢走 Man zou

A little knowledge, it is said, can be dangerous. The term 慢走 man zou, literally "go slowly" when said to someone in China, is a wish that their travel will be safe.

A few months ago, I was a guest, along with others, at a banquet in Hefei, China. Naturally, as we all were leaving, I said 慢走to our host. At that point, everyone around me broke out in laughter. They explained to me that in this situation, the HOST says 慢走 to the GUEST. For the guest to say so to the host, as I did, actually constitutes rudeness.

Lessons to be learned

What can we learn from these examples? First, think before you speak. What sounds reasonable to you might sound foolish to the listener. Be especially alert if you are dealing with people from a different culture. Second, avoid showing disunity within your organization when speaking to someone outside. Finally, if a thought or idea really isn't necessary to the conversation, it's best to consider keeping it to yourself.

More stupidity?

What's the dumbest thing you ever heard someone say? What's the dumbest thing you yourself have ever said (so far)?

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

16 comments
mark
mark

I liked the article, but at the end was left feeling "where's the punchline?". Yes, there was a nice concise summary, but I was left wanting more. I was left feeling a bit sad at the opportunities lost here, rather than fulfilled with more to go on. Please don't get me wrong, the illustrations were interesting and useful and I can see good material here in helping others. But it felt like a build-up rather than a whole article. If there is a follow-on "Tactics to avoid being a jerk", or "FIM avoidance", perhaps 10 things to do with your words to be positive rather than negative ..magic! If not, now that you have taken up the baton, and led us here Calvin, where are you taking us?

Billb114
Billb114

#1 Avoid downtown Philadelphia - the security guards are all ex-police officers descended from the Rizzo administration. #2 "10 stupid things I've heard people say" is probably one of the 10 stupid things I've heard people say. We all have a day when we say 10 stupid things before lunch (If you don't think so I'm sure somebody else does). Maybe there are better things to collect?

5haggi
5haggi

... when someone at work predicates a sentence with "it's nothing personal, but ..." Whatever follows that statement, I am now virtually guaranteed to take it personally ;-)

Aldinho
Aldinho

So you probably got a guard fired because you say he was rude, he didn't know you and he was doing his job??......

Africanpete
Africanpete

Many years ago whilst working in the Arabian Gulf in the mid 1980s I dropped a real faux pas at a weekly project meeting which I was chairing, as the assistant GM of the company. I said whilst wrapping up the meeting "In these weekly meetings there are now too many chiefs and not enough Indians" . Now I must explain that the company I worked was a very successful professional IT company (wasn't called an IT company in the day) which consisted of about 75% mostly very professional Indian nationals. The GM was a fact an Indian national. Around the table were approximately 15 people. The project meetings had in fact initially been made up started off 8 members directly involved in three particular projects. Over time the core involved members positions at the meetings had been usurped by their managers and supervisors, not directly involved in the projects. Hence my faux pas. Imagine the reaction of the members, including the GM who was present, around the table including the laughs of mirth from two Brits other who were present. As you said in you blog think carefully before putting you foot in it!! AfricanPete

Susan.Nortje7
Susan.Nortje7

I was moved under a new, young manager who regularly failed to pitch for meetings without notifying the team he would not be attending. He also had to drop his children off every Thursday morning, making it a standing arrangement that he would be late on Thursday mornings. One morning I walked into the boardroom and openly expressed my frustration at him not informing the team that he would not attend. A minute later I realized that it was in fact Thursday, and promptly apologized and explained that he was dropping off his kids. Apparently the apology fell on deaf ears as I was called into the boardroom the next morning and kindly told about the tongue lashing I had given a manager the previous day.

casinoal
casinoal

I have a colleague who tries to use big words... but doesn’t quite get it right. My favourite is "irregardless". Also in a meeting about a new data warehouse she was fulsome in her praise of "this new information suppository".

Dyalect
Dyalect

- with that being said - at the end of the day - going forward Beyond meaningless. I think people just tune out when they hear this garbage in a meeting. Like get on with it already. Because "at the end of the day", peoples time is valuable. ;)

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

I like the "how to avoid being a jerk." thanks, I will suggest to Jody Gilbert, and hope she likes it too. I appreciate it. As far as the "positive" vs. "negative," I think I have covered it before, do a google search for me with tech republic. Thanks.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

your first point assumes everyone outside the Philly metropolitan area has a clue who Rizzo was and the significance of the ex-cops being from his era. What's stupid is when national entertainment media make references to various areas in NYC as if everyone in their audience has a working knowledge of that city's geographical layouts; and the cultural significance of each block, borough, boulevard, bridge, and 'burb.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Am I supposed to feel badly about it? If the boss fired him (and I don't know either way), then address your comment to the boss, not to me. Besides, if he did get fired, what does that say about whether he really was "doing his job"? I was there, he was rude, and I reported truthfully what I experienced. I pointed out that this guard's actions potentially could cost the organization, because his behavior could easily alienate potential residents.

Snak
Snak

.... it gets dark. I suppose I can be a bit of a pain, but when I hear 'At the end of the day...' followed by a brief pause, I love to get 'it gets dark' in. The speaker hates it; the sufferers (sorry, of course I mean Listeners) love it. One I overheard once was 'There is no 'I' in 'Team' - to which a colleague behind me whispered 'No, but there's a U in Doofus'.* Actually he used a far worse word beginning with 'C', but I couldn't repeat that here.

mperata
mperata

"your first point assumes everyone outside the Philly metropolitan area has a clue who Rizzo was and the significance of the ex-cops being from his era." For those too young to know who Rizzo was think about the cowboy edition in Arizona: Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

mperata
mperata

My 45 y/o son and 36 y/o daughter do not have a clue as to who Rizzo was and what he did! Remember, he served as Mayor from 1972 to 1980.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm 53. How old would one have to be to remember this guy? My point isn't one of age, it's that local references may not connect with national or international audiences.