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13 Stupid Sentences That Will Derail Your Career

I wish HR would teach a course on the really stupid sentences people say at work. Oh, I’m not talking about he obvious stupidity: “you look hot in that dress” or “hey baby”. There’s training and rules for that. But there’s no code of conduct to protect against the stupid, dis-empowering words I often hear up, down and sideways.

Before writing this post, I decided to do an informal stupid sentence poll through social media. The responses fell into two big categories: Stupid sentences that deny accountability and stupid sentences that prove you are clueless. I’ll start; you add to the lists.

Stupid Sentences That Deny Accountability

  1. That’s Not My Job (#1 by a landslide) – Although we all know this, someone is still out there saying it. Stop it, it’s stupid. Instead, help all you can.
  2. That Decision’s Above My Pay Grade – The really wacky part of this one, is that I hear it most often at the higher levels of the business. Please, please don’t say this. And whatever you do, don’t say it to someone at a lower pay grade than you. They count on you to advocate for what’s right, not shrug your shoulders and roll over.
  3. I Wasn’t Aware – This one is commonly used to throw someone else under the bus. Trust me, you look like an idiot. “Let me find out more”, “I’m digging in”, and “I’m here to help” are all acceptable replacement statements.
  4. My Team really Screwed This Up – No one really says this do they? From my experience and the poll, yes. Sometimes out loud; sometimes by just being silent. Own your team’s mistakes and help them fix them and learn. There’s no better way to gain credibility up and down the chain.
  5. I Can Always Get Another Job At Twice The Pay Some Place Else – Okay, if that’s really true, and you’re disgruntled with the rest of the scene to say that out loud. Just saying. Be careful.
  6. I Just Don’t Have Enough Time To Do That – If it’s not a priority say that. If it’s important discuss what else could move.
  7. It’s Not My Fault, It’s The Other Department’s Mistake – Let’s assume that’s true. Taking the high-road would look like ________________? Who and how would that help?
  8. Stupid Sentences That Prove You’re Clueless

  9. That’s A Stupid Question – As much as I want to throw up every time someone says there are no stupid questions, the truth is leaders keep saying that because other leaders are out there making people feel stupid. Stop it.
  10. What’s Wrong With Them – If your team’s not performing, the problem starts with you, not them. Could be selection, systems, rules, leadership. Figure it out, reverse the direction of your finger-pointing.
  11. That’ll Never Work – If I had a nickel for every time my team proved me wrong or I proved someone wrong, the truth is that just because it didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Put away old biases and really listen. Consider a pilot or some other form of toe-dipping. Most importantly, be a receptive and encouraging leader.
  12. That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It – We get that. Now be a leader.
  13. The Employees Need To Realize They Are Lucky To Have Jobs In This Economy – Okay, so grateful (and without choices) that they _____________. I know you’re not saying these things, but research has shown many someones are.

Thanks to the folks at Lead Change and Twitter for weighing in.

In Other News…

bookcoverI was delighted to have been interviewed about my new book, Overcoming An Imperfect Boss on the powerful podcast: The Business of People In Leadership. Amazed at the stories he got out of me including my most embarrassing leadership moment. Click here to hear the podcast.

Want to know more about the book? Click here to download a sample chapter.

Already read it? I would love to see your review on Amazon.

Your Turn: What stupid sentences diminish leadership credibility?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning, Communication
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is an experienced executive, speaker, and writer with a diverse background in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, training and organizational leadership. Her company, Let’s Grow Leaders, helps companies gain a competitive edge by building extraordinary front-line teams. She was recently named to the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of the marathon runner, and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

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What People Are Saying

Bob Whipple "The Trust Ambassador"   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

How about this one… “Trust me.”

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Bob, Oh yes…. if you have to say that…..

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Karin- a great post. Stupidity levels in which the lowest one is saying things that harm all. Nobody benefits. At a slightly higher levels saying things that harm on party and the other party doesn’t benefit. A slightly higher level is saying something that hurts one party and benefits the other.
I wish my time would allow me to do the 5-why analysis to identify why people do that.
Throwing responsibilities at others, blaming others, complaining, negative thinking, and all sorts of evil make some say say things that are groundless.
I hope my comment makes some sense.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Ali, Your comments are spot on! I do wonder WHY people say such things. I imagine it might take more than 5 “whys.” I do see stupidity you describe far too often.

Steve Borek   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

I once said five words to the VP of sales that was great for my career.

Each rep had to give their quarterly forecast in a one on one presentation with the VP.

I had a chunky order, $200K+, that would be booked in the following quarter. The VP was insistent on having it happen this quarter.

After giving him a long explanation of the players, issues, etc. of the account (VP was quizzing me on whether or not I knew what was going on inside the account)I looked him square in the eye and said “It is what it is.” This was circa 1998.

From that moment on, he never questioned anything I ever said.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Thanks, Steve. It’s hard to argue with the truth.

Bob Whipple "The Trust Ambassador"   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

Great story, Steve. There are defining moments that make a career. The most significant sentence I ever uttered to my boss was…”You would never know this if I didn’t tell you, but I did something really dumb in Japan last week.” That sentence made me a lot of money over the next 20 years because it ensured trust.

Renee Ruchotzke   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Here are a couple for the non-profit world in talking to stakeholders: “We have to cut corners somewhere.” “We can’t afford to provide _________.”

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Renee… oh those are great ones.

Jim Ryan   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

“We complained about to management, but they didn’t do anything.” Sometimes when I hear this it is management’s fault. But, most of the time it’s about something the employee is simply unwilling to take responsibility for fixing.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Jim, really great add… any sentence that has “they” combined with finger pointing is dangerous.

Lindy Welsby   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

How about “Let’s run it up the flag pole”? That is circa 1970, and speaks to the old fashioned command and control military style of leadership – not the style I feel gets the best impact.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Linda, YES! And yet, so many people still say that. Great one.

Dan Rockwell   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

“I wasn’t aware,” is code for I’m not responsible or I’m off the hook. My favorite suggestion, “Let’s look into this.” Kapow!

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Dan, Thanks so much. Beware of leaders skirting accountability.

LaRae Quy   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

This is an awesome list, Karin!

“It’s not my job” would have been my choice as well…I hear it so often and it’s a clumsy excuse for trying to pass the buck.

P.S. Love your book promo!

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, Thanks so much. I’m having a lot of fun with the book.

Pip   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

My manager told me that she’d give me more work to do when I had more experience.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Pip… I agree, that’s a pretty strange way to put it. You want more work, but you’re not ready? Hmmm…. Have you asked her for ways to get more prepared sooner? A mentor? Working with a peer?

David Tumbarello   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

I have never heard “It’s not my job” in any context. Maybe I’m in the wrong circles!

What would I add to your list? If I were to coach leaders, one of my talking points would be to have them decrease the use of You-statements and increase the use of I-statements. “You shouldn’t …” would thus be “I need …” In my opinion, one of those statements restricts thought & creativity while the other does the opposite.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

David, Sounds like you’re in some great circles. Yes, yes….”you” statements are great suspects for this list.

Andrea Herran   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

I used to hear this sometimes “Doesn’t anybody know that I’m the boss or (fill in position here)?” This was usually from people thinking their title gave them automatic respect.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Andrea, Oh yeah…. I’ve heard that one too. Not good.

Sam Jayasinghe   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

A bit similar to ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ would be people saying ‘i’ve worked here for many years’ and therefore thinking they know everything better.

letsgrowleaders   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

Sam, Agreed. Excellent add. Thanks!

Tom Eakin   |   02 April 2014   |   Reply

“That should have fixed it,” or “It shouldn’t happen again.” I hear this from a lot of folks who don’t want to solve the problem, they just want to get past it and hope it never comes back. It will. It happened once, “should” won’t prevent it from happening again.

“He/She is an adult, they ‘should’ know better!” Ha! If being an adult is the criteria for “knowing better” then why are our prisons overflowing with adults?

I wrote an article about this once in which I proposed we “should” remove the word “should” from the English language so we could stop trying to solve problems and changing things with that word. I was being ironic…not sure if anyone else got the joke. ;-)

letsgrowleaders   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

Tom, those are all great ones. Thank you. Always feel free to attach any links to articles that you’ve written. I love it when our community extends the conversation.

Alli Polin   |   03 April 2014   |   Reply

I cringed reading so many of these! I also cringe when I work with leaders that seem to start every sentence with “In my experience…” Duh. We know you’re experienced but let’s get creative together about this situation.

Great pointers for leaders at every level here!

letsgrowleaders   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

Alli, GREAT one. Yeah, if you have to keep reminding us how experienced you are, I begin to question how secure you are in what you know.

David Jackman   |   03 April 2014   |   Reply

“We should’ve anticipated this”. How is saying that helpful to solving the current dilemma, whatever it may be? If there truly were indicators and signs that were missed, discuss it after the problem is solved so that it isn’t repeated in the future. Said in the moment, all this does is drag down morale.

letsgrowleaders   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

David, yes! Oh, I’ve heard that many times. You are right, that doesn’t really help move the ball forward. Great to have you joining the conversation.

Terri Klass   |   03 April 2014   |   Reply

I just can hear leaders barking out these insane statements especially when it comes to change and they keep repeating: “We tried this before and it didn’t work.”

We all need to be aware of what we say and what we sound like. These statements can be such de-motivators.

Thanks Karin!

letsgrowleaders   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

Terri, Thanks so much. Agreed. Leaders must also consider the motivational impact of their words.

Rufus Lee King   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

I agree Terri, I try to remind my bosses that “we tried this before and it didn’t work”. I feel like a slave sometimes and it ain’t fair! They don’t even call me by my real name, my nickname in the office is “Toby”.

Marc Bridgham   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

“They oughta wanna”

“If we just explain it better they’l”

“Employees don’t care about the business…they just want to collect their paycheck”

“I tried”

Marc Bridgham   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

If we just explain it better, they’ll see we’re right