Whether you’re just getting your start in the workplace or you’re the executive of your company, what you say matters. Studies show that we are judged almost instantaneously on the way we speak. So while we may not think a lot about what we say or how we say it, your words and tone actually hold the power to make or break your success at work.
If you’re not thinking intentionally about the words you use at work, think again. It’s a simple change to make, but it makes a world of difference. A small change in the way you express yourself can get you closer to your goals, help you connect with others, and empower your performance. Here is how to switch your script for success in these six common workplace scenarios.
1. When you need help…
Say This: “Thank you!”
Not That: “I’m sorry…”
One study found that people were ten percent more likely to respond to emails that included a “thank you” in their sign-off. So rather than leading with an apology, which signifies that your request is an inconvenience, make it a positive exchange.
Get the other person on board and even excited to help you by showing them the direct impact their help will have on your work. Say, for example, “Thank you in advance. This will be a huge help and save so much time on the project!” People enjoy helping others when they see the payoff (There’s a neural link between generosity and happiness that makes it feel good to give to others!), so for best results: Keep it positive and impactful.
2. When you’ve helped someone else…
Say This: “Happy to help.”
Not That: “No problem!”
It may seem harmless, but “no problem” is a phrase that can discredit your work, loosen your boundaries, and keep you from feeling pride. By definition, it enables you to let things slide and dismiss the effort you’ve put into solving what may have actually been a problem—and it becomes more automatic the more you say it.
Resist the impulse to brush off praise. Instead, reclaim credit where it’s due, with a phrase like, “I’m happy to help!” or “My pleasure.” Let your efforts be known and allow yourself to feel the full effects of the pride you deserve for a job well done.
3. When you’re stuck…
Say This: “Here are some options…”
Not That: “I don’t know what to do.”
Research shows that people are more likely to help when they see you’ve put in some effort first. Attempting to solve the problem first is a sign of resourcefulness and self-efficacy—characteristics that are highly valued by employers in today’s workplace.
Show your work: Think through possible solutions to present alongside the problem. By proposing a plan of action, you narrow the scope of the issue and shift into an “abundance mindset” which allows you to scan for resources you may have otherwise overlooked.
4. When you’ve slipped up…
Say This: “Thanks for pointing that out!”
Not That: “Oops!”
Everyone makes mistakes. While you want to take accountability for yours, you don’t need to lose credibility for a small slip-up. Over-apologizing can lead others to view you as less confident and lower your own self-esteem.
Instead, take accountability and present your plan to fix the misstep. Say, “Great catch on that typo, I’ll fix that right away,” for example. Rather than putting yourself down, this approach elevates the other person and conveys something more meaningful than an apology: An improvement.
5. When you need to make small talk…
Say This: “I’m good, etc…”
Not That: “I’m good, thanks.”
Most people dread water cooler talk, but it is an underrated opportunity to build rapport with your coworkers—with whom you probably spend the majority of your day. Rather than getting caught in an empty loop of, “I’m good, how are you?”’s, tack on an extra phrase that keeps the conversation going.
Share an update, ask what they’re working on, what they did this past weekend, or find common ground with a current event. “Have you seen that new show…” for instance, goes a lot further than a rhetorical reply and can provide material for follow-up conversations in the future.
6. When you want to say “no”…
Say This: “I don’t…”
Not That: “I can’t.”
Setting boundaries at work can be difficult, especially when so many of us have Iceberg Beliefs—big, bold self-limiting beliefs—around always being there for people and wanting to be liked. However, saying “no” is vital to your success, and it gets easier with practice.
Keep it short and straightforward. Rather than, “I can’t right now…I have two reports due today,” say, “Unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth this week,” for example. The word “can’t” invites the other person to troubleshoot a solution, while “don’t” establishes where your boundary lies. Being firm doesn’t have to come at the cost of being helpful, however. You can follow up with an alternative solution or suggest another person to help if one comes to mind. Your script is yours to write. Whichever words you choose, make sure they say what you mean and support your success.