Bury These 4 Phrases for Best Teamwork & People-Skills

The best teamwork in the workplace requires great people-skills. What you say and how you say it impacts productivity and teamwork today and tomorrow and down the road.

Phrases that team members see as disrespectful (regardless of your intentions) can bury teamwork and your workplace relationship.

For all team members and leaders who like practical information for the best teamwork and people-skills, here’s a checklist of 4 phrases to bury and never use again!


Bury These Phrases for Best Teamwork

  1. “Whatever!” The current popularity of this phrase does not lessen its sting. You are basically saying to your team member: “your thoughts don’t matter to me”. This will leave scars that damage teamwork. It you disagree with a team member, then say I disagree. If you are frustrated because they are talking endlessly, then say “we are short on time today…”. Bury the phrase whatever and don’t ever dig it up!

  2. “All you’ve done is ….” The culprit here is the word all. It packs whatever you are about to say with emotion — negative emotion. A colleague of mine was speaking with a networking contact who was a driver/driver personality type. The contact said to my colleague about her work “All you’ve done is invent a job for yourself.” The networking contact’s “all you’ve’ done is …” phrase is insulting and demeaning. On a team, this phrase could leave a scar between team members that never heals. Bury this phrase all you’ve done is … deep in the ground so it doesn’t ooze up during a flood!

  3. “Don’t you think …?” Most of the time, people use this phrase to pressure someone into agreement. Much better to state what you believe (“I think”) and ask the team members what they think. “Don’t you think we should or …” is a passive aggressive way of expressing disagreement and often triggers resistance and emotion. To reach an end goal, put the issues on the table for the team members to directly discuss. Bury the phrase don’t you think … and replace it with what do you think?.

  4. “I’m sorry you feel I have …”. This is one of the most common and is a most offensive phrase — whether you say it in the workplace or in your personal life. Said on a team, it is deadly. The culprit here are the words you feel. If someone has told you that you have offended, hurt, insulted … them, offer a simple direct apology I am sorry. If you want to go further, use and I am sorry for the impact this has had on you. Bury your fear of apologizing along with the phrase I’m sorry you feel I have …. You will be respected for your courage and your caring.

What other phrases would you bury?

From my experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, delivers workshops, keynotes, and consultations that turn interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. Leaders have booked Kate for 21 years to overcome the toughest challenges, activate service and teamwork, and channel people-skills extremes into business gains. See this site for customer results and book Kate now.

10 Responses to “Bury These 4 Phrases for Best Teamwork & People-Skills”

  1. Sheila P. says:

    Wow Kate, I have said two of the four. I am embarrassed to admit which ones yet your explanations of how they come across has opened my eyes.
    Thanks for this post! I will share it with my team and also my family members.
    Sheila P.

  2. Yun-Mei Lin says:

    I’m thrilled that I never use 1, 2, or 3. I agree with you in a teamwork setting that #4 should not be used. However, what is your take on the use of “I’m sorry that you feel…” in the Customer Service arena? The reason I ask is that almost all of the Premier Customer Service training I’ve attended in recent years not only encourage this phrase, but go so far as requiring it. In the scenario of dealing with an irate customer who is bound and determined to throw blame at the customer service rep. Rather than verbalize an apology, the phrase above is used to acknowledge the emotions of the customer in order to defuse the situation and bring the control back into play and work together towards a resolution.

    Also – I would like to suggest another phrase to be buried is: “Well, let me ask you this….” I’ve recently seen this phrase in use SO many times, and the user usually uses this phrase as a way to start a fight.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Many thanks for contributing to this blog Yun-Mei. I agree that “Well, let me ask you this …” would do better buried in the ground. The culprit word is “well let me”. It signals negative emotion. Better to simply ask the question rather than announcing you are going to ask it.

      In reply to your question about #4 “I’m sorry you feel that way …” in customer service — it is an abomination. It is rude in teamwork and in customer service it is patronizing, non action-oriented, and insulting of a company’s most valuable resource/asset — the customer. I do not teach it in any of my customer service programs and do not believe it is premier training in any way. It is truly misguided.

      I do not understand why any customer service training would teach that you shouldn’t verbalize an apology. Nonetheless if a company doesn’t want their CSRs to apologize, the customer’s emotion should at least be acknowledged instead of patronized. I recommend “Clearly we have upset you and we will work to resolve it.” Of course, you first let the customer vent. Too many leaders believe that CSRs should “contain” the customer’s anger. Customers are adults spending their money. Trying to jump in during the emotion and contain with “I’m sorry you feel that way ….” is the equivalent of telling the customer that their emotion is not acceptable.

      Many thanks again Yun-Mei for visiting this blog and both asking a question and contributing a new phrase to bury!
      Warmest wishes,

  3. Pattie Roberts says:

    Another great post, Kate, thank you! These phrases should be buried, deep, along with a couple of others that I have heard/experienced and seen the negative reactions to:

    1. “Why don’t you…” or it’s cousin “Why didn’t you…”. As you have pointed out above, passive-aggressive language like this skates along the surface of civilized interaction, but cuts deeply and hinders team trust. In my experience, saying “Why don’t you… do it this way, try that, approach it such and such a way” is a direct challenge to the person’s intellect or judgement, implying that the person hasn’t thought a thing through, or has considered and rejected the “right” approach. “Why don’t you…” is a hot button with me, I work hard to never express skepticism or disagreement this way. Instead, I’ll try to say something like “Have you considered X?” or “Where did X come out as you were evaluating different options?” It acknowledges a teammate’s work up to that point, and their competence to have gotten to the point they have in the project. If the teammate hasn’t been diligent about thinking the issue through, this will raise useful topics for consideration without stomping on the teammate’s self respect and possibly damaging the team’s dynamics over the longer term.

    2. “Yes, but…” I learned an important semantic lesson years ago when I first began my career: the word “But” almost always negates all that came before it. “Your report is really great, but it doesn’t cover X.” If X is important, then the report isn’t really great, is it? If X isn’t important, you’ve just trashed your colleague’s work capriciously. I make an effort to use “and” in many cases where “but” is commonly used. “Your report is a good start, and it will be even more useful when you add a section on X.”

    How we speak to each other has enormous impacts on group dynamics, and the kind of mindfulness you bring up in this post can be exceptionally powerful in improving the health and longevity of strong teams.

    Cheers, and happy Thursday!


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Excellent additions Pattie — both of these. I would add that instead of “Why didn’t you or why don’t you” … “What if” works well. It raises other possibilities for consideration w/o trashing the person’s ego. Many thanks, as always, for your comments and let me know when you want to guest post again.

      Best to you,

  4. Barry Dalton says:

    Thought provoking Kate. I’m thinking there is a whole laundry list of such relationship distroying things we say to each other, whether in business or personal interactions. Another one that I find puts people immediately on the defensive is “You Should” or “You Should Have” “You should” is giving me, in most cases, unsolicited advice. “You should have” means you think what I did was wrong. But rather than saying that, we say “you should have done X” Instead, in both cases, be a partern in the solution. Try “Lets do” or “Lets try”. Here’s #1 on my list of unspoked distructive phrases “not my job”. Not many people articulate this. But, the unspoken, non-verbal and often times passive agressive behavior that this manifests into is probably the most damaging, productivity killing behavior in business.

    Nice post. Keep ’em coming.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      So true Barry about the “shoulds”. In fact, in all my customer service workshops I hand out a card of “killer phrases” to avoid and “should” and “should have” is definitely toward the top of the list! Thanks for your contribution here. Truly appreciated.
      Enjoy your weekend…

  5. Liz says:

    Love them, love them; all comments here are fantastic. Thank you Kate and all for sharing! I believe that by saying to a coworker “What if instead of that, you could have said..” shows your point of view, like you are just suggesting something (instead of criticizing and not agreeing with it).

    One time, someone that has a big corporate title, said something like this to me “You shouldn’t feel that way”. I have to admit, I got upset when I heard this, because I find this as an act of disrespect. No one have the right to tell people or suggest to an individual on how they feel. Human beings are sole proprietorship of our feelings (we are the only ones aware or not, in control or not, of our own feeling/emotions). No one, absolutely no one, have the right or authority to tell you how to feel. Feelings and emotions are all connected with our spirit.

    I can assure you that I do not go on telling people how to feel .

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Liz. I do see so many of these “little” gaffes that leave big scars. That propelled me to write the post. Glad you found the comments valuable and I value your comments and time in visiting this blog.
      Best wishes,

  6. Steven says:

    Hi Kate,
    So funny to read this blog as I just finished reading a book about language use. Unfortunately it is only published in Dutch otherwise I would recommend it, if not only for the priceless elaborations on the many fillers that dominate our language.
    I have to agree with Dan though that a lot of the impact of your words is in your tone of voice and body-language. Some lingo is already so much common good that a perceptive mind only will scrutinize your sentence to distinguish e.g. the criticism-hidden-as-compliment from a real compliment or will feel undervalued simply by your use of the word “but”. In addition, (see also one of my older tweets) I think that whenever there is dysfunctioning communication, the problem is too often sought after with the sending party – btw not saying you are guilty of this ;-). My experience is that what is important in communications is that you remain authentic in your message. This way, a misspelling, misused/placed words or else will be disregarded by the receiver as s/he – even the perceptive ones – will look less for the hidden message.
    Having said this, I do agree that we all should make an effort to bury phrases you know will only hurt relationships.

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