6 psychologically damaging things people say at work

Words from co-workers and clients can stay with you long after you’ve left a job, and certain phrases can blow up a professional relationship, making people wonder if they really belonged in a company or if they can’t. new to working with or trusting a colleague. .

That’s why it’s so important to learn how to identify and avoid such phrases, whether they’re obviously rude or seemingly innocuous. Here are some psychologically damaging but commonly used phrases to watch out for in your business communications.

1. “No offense but…” or “No disrespect but…”

Mary Abbajay, president of leadership development consultancy Careerstone Group, has once been hired by a company to organize team building. When she met the manager of the team she would be working with, he told her, “With all due respect, I forgot more about teamwork than you will ever know. “

Abbajay ended up turning down the job as a result. “That was 15 years ago, and it still sticks with me,” she said. “If he hadn’t said ‘with all due respect’ I might have taken it differently. It’s just the icing on the cake that shows ‘I don’t respect you, I think you’re wrong.’

Along with the similar phrase “No offense…,” she said, these condescending words signal that the speaker is not respecting the other person’s point of view.

2. “I don’t have time for this.”

Psychological safety is key to keeping teams together. Researchers describe it as the mental space in which employees are free to speak up, share bad news, and seek help when overwhelmed.

If your tendency to respond to co-worker requests is to tell them that you are too busy or that you don’t have enough time, it sends a signal that the other person is not a priority and that they are not shouldn’t come to you when she needs help. .

“This person will be reluctant to come back to you if there is a problem or a situation, and it may bother them so much that they are too worried about taking your time and boring you rather than getting what they want. need.” says Abbajay.

When managers say this, it can silence their team and make members less likely to admit mistakes, she added.

3. “What X is trying to say is…”

If you’ve been in a meeting with a colleague who feels the need to rephrase what you just said in their own words, then you understand the frustration of hearing that phrase. Abbajay said it’s the one she hates the most because it doesn’t move the conversation forward productively, even though that’s the speaker’s intent.

When someone does this to you, you may jump to a conclusion like “I’m inarticulate, I’m stupid, people don’t understand me, people don’t respect it out of my mouth, so you feel like you have to say it. out of your mouth,” she said. “It’s very decreasing. It lowers the status of the other person.

Rather than rephrase his colleagues’ words, Abbajay said his colleagues could simply ask when they needed more explanation in a conversation.

4. “You look young for…” or “You are so eloquent for a…”

Lawrese Brown, founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company, cited the type of compromising feedback you can sometimes receive when you go against a co-worker’s assumptions and expectations. about how you should present yourself at work. These comments can range from microaggressions on your identity to questions about your leadership potential.

Brown said she’s heard from clients who’ve been told they’re a “weak” leader or “seem young.” A client was advised to change her hairstyle.

“Her manager told her that people would take her more seriously if she straightened her hair,” she said. “It all falls under the umbrella of, ‘You are seen as inappropriate; something about your presentation or how you are perceived makes people question your ability to do the job.

These kinds of comments can irritate employees and make them feel inadequate at work. “We’re starting to feel like the way we’re operating isn’t appropriate or efficient, or we’re just aware that it might be a blow to us,” Brown said.

5. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

Brown said it’s okay to note that words can be interpreted differently, but you have to be careful not to be dismissive when others disagree. “I didn’t mean it like that” is a common defensive comment that fails to acknowledge how your words may be received, she said.

The point is to recognize that your words carry weight and can hurt. Remember that someone is the recipient of your comment and first ask yourself, “Is this productive? before saying it, she said.

6. “Nobody else told me about it” or “You take it personally.”

Brown said managers often make the mistake of using disempowering comments such as “Nobody else told me about it” when a team or employee raises a concern. According to Brown, it can send the message, “If it’s only important to you, is it worth taking seriously?”

When co-workers invalidate your feelings in this way, or you do it to others, it can prevent much-needed conversations from happening.

”Other people didn’t say that. What you’re missing by saying that is you’re undermining the other person,” Brown said. “These are phrases that, once said, very few people have the tools to have the difficult conversation to unpack that. People don’t say anything.“

And ultimately, when co-workers stop talking to each other, communication breaks down, mistakes are more likely to happen, tensions rise, and everyone is more nervous.

Your colleagues will “tend to be more people-pleasing because they no longer trust their own voice or the perception of an experience, or it inhibits their ability to trust their colleagues,” Brown said. “When we don’t trust, we put more rigid processes in place, and it’s because we don’t believe our word will be recognized or our needs in environments will be met.”


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