Peruse any career-advice column and you’ll find plenty of articles on what to say – or not say – in the workspace. And I don’t mean the typical NSFW fare – F-bombs or name-calling or other overt derogatory and inappropriate expletives.
I’m not talking about the typical “corp-speak” that managers think sounds meaningful but actually comes off silly. (i.e. “Let’s integrate maximum cross-platform exposure for impactful synergistic leverage…” Be real, not a robot!.)
Nor do I mean the lists typically geared towards women that urge us not to say “sorry” if there’s nothing to be sorry for or to couch requests with “just” or “maybe” or other wishy-washy language. (i.e. “Just checking, Charlie, will you have the report due last week to me, maybe by next week? Sorry to trouble you!”) You’ve read enough of those.
What else to avoid?
Here are two words you shouldn’t say at work if they’re not already obvious.
Don’t say “obviously.”
And don’t say “already.”
I’ll tell you why…
Some years ago I worked with a man I’ll call Captain Obvious. That’s because everything was “obvious” to him. I was new to the team, taking charge in a position he had interviewed for and didn’t get.
Obviously, he wasn’t happy to have me there. So, any suggestion I made and any change I recommended was met with a response like this:
“Obviously, we’ve thought of that…”
“Obviously, we tried that and it didn’t work.”
“Obviously, we did that already.” (And just like that, he put them both in one sentence)…
OK, Captain, I get it. Obviously you’re the smartest guy in the room and NO ONE else can have an idea or improve upon one previously tried. You’ve already done everything that could POSSIBLY be done and therefore someone else suggesting it… or something similar… or the opportunity to revisit and brainstorm a solution… is OBVIOUSLY a waste of time.
Or is it?
What seemed obvious to him may have been new or worthwhile for others to explore.
Obviously he was stonewalling me. I should have realized that already. And he was somewhat oblivious to my annoyance at his overuse of the word obvious.
Here’s the impact of all of Captain Obvious’s obviousness: I pegged him a naysayer, even a jerk, and he began to appear as that naysaying jerk to the rest of the team as well.
So, what are you to take away from this?
Obviously, don’t be Captain Obvious.
What can you say instead, when you want to share what’s been previously attempted to no avail but “obvious” and “already” won’t do? There are other ways to demonstrate your prior work without sounding like a negative jerk, especially to a new supervisor. A bit of positive ownership is key at the beginning of a working relationship.
Change the script, change the outcome of the story...
“Last month we weren’t successful with that. We can revisit based on what we learned if that would be valuable.”
“Our previous attempt didn’t get us the results we wanted. Let me tell you what we did and we can work to refine the process.”
In short, you want to show you are on board, a willing team player. And whatever happens, even if future attempts fail, resist the urge to use that most irritating four-word combination:
“I told you so.”
Valerie Gordon is an award-winning storyteller, long-time television producer, and the founder of career and communications strategy firm, Commander-in-She. OBVIOUSLY she’s ALREADY thought about the impact of focusing her company on how women can best harness the power of their stories for more success at work… But isn’t it OBVIOUS they’ve ALREADY earned that success by now? Check out our keynotes, workshops, and webinars for your group or organization.