There are some things you simply never want to say at work.

These phrases carry special power: They have an uncanny ability to make you look bad even when the words are true. Worst of all, there’s no taking them back once they slip out.


10 things smart people never say


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I’m not talking about shocking slips of the tongue, off-color jokes, or politically incorrect faux pas. These aren’t the only ways to make yourself look bad. Often it’s the subtle remarks — the ones that paint us as incompetent and unconfident — that do the most damage.

No matter how talented you are or what you’ve accomplished, there are certain phrases that instantly change the way people see you and can forever cast you in a negative light. These phrases are so loaded with negative implications that they undermine careers in short order.

“This is the way it’s always been done”

Technology-fueled change is happening so fast that even a six-month-old process could be outdated. Saying this is the way it’s always been done not only makes you sound lazy and resistant to change, but it could make your boss wonder why you haven’t tried to improve things on your own. If you really are doing things the way they’ve always been done, there’s almost certainly a better way.

“It’s not my fault”

It’s never a good idea to cast blame. Be accountable. If you had any role — no matter how small — in whatever went wrong, own it. If not, offer an objective, dispassionate explanation of what happened. Stick to the facts, and let your boss and colleagues draw their own conclusions about who’s to blame. The moment you start pointing fingers is the moment people start seeing you as someone who lacks accountability for their actions. This makes people nervous. Some will avoid working with you altogether, and others will strike first and blame you when something goes wrong.

“I can’t”

I can’t is it’s not my fault’s twisted sister. People don’t like to hear I can’t because they think it means I won’t. Saying I can’t suggests that you’re not willing to do what it takes to get the job done. If you really can’t do something because you truly lack the necessary skills, you need to offer an alternative solution. Instead of saying what you can’t do, say what you can do. For example, instead of saying “I can’t stay late tonight,” say “I can come in early tomorrow morning. Will that work?” Instead of “I can’t run those numbers,” say “I don’t yet know how to run that type of analysis. Is there someone who can show me so that I can do it on my own next time?”

“It’s not fair”

Everyone knows that life isn’t fair. Saying it’s not fair suggests that you think life is supposed to be fair, which makes you look immature and naïve. If you don’t want to make yourself look bad, you need to stick to the facts, stay constructive, and leave your interpretation out of it. For instance, you could say, “I noticed that you assigned Ann that big project I was hoping for. Would you mind telling me what went into that decision? I’d like to know why you thought I wasn’t a good fit, so that I can work on improving those skills.”

“That’s not in my job description”

This often sarcastic phrase makes you sound as though you’re only willing to do the bare minimum required to keep getting a paycheck, which is a bad thing if you like job security. If your boss asks you to do something that you feel is inappropriate for your position (as opposed to morally or ethically inappropriate), the best move is to complete the task eagerly. Later, schedule a conversation with your boss to discuss your role in the company and whether your job description needs an update. This ensures that you avoid looking petty. It also enables you and your boss to develop a long-term understanding of what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

“This may be a silly idea/I’m going to ask a stupid question”

These overly passive phrases instantly erode your credibility. Even if you follow these phrases with a great idea, they suggest that you lack confidence, which makes the people you’re speaking to lose confidence in you. Don’t be your own worst critic. If you’re not confident in what you’re saying, no one else will be either. And, if you really don’t know something, say, “I don’t have that information right now, but I’ll find out and get right back to you.”

“I’ll try”

Just like the word think, try sounds tentative and suggests that you lack confidence in your ability to execute the task. Take full ownership of your capabilities. If you’re asked to do something, either commit to doing it or offer an alternative, but don’t say that you’ll try because it sounds like you won’t try all that hard.

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“This will only take a minute”

Saying that something only takes a minute undermines your skills and gives the impression that you rush through tasks. Unless you’re literally going to complete the task in 60 seconds, feel free to say that it won’t take long, but don’t make it sound as though the task can be completed any sooner than it can actually be finished.

 “I hate this job”

The last thing anyone wants to hear at work is someone complaining about how much they hate their job. Doing so labels you as a negative person and brings down the morale of the group. Bosses are quick to catch on to naysayers who drag down morale, and they know that there are always enthusiastic replacements waiting just around the corner.

“He’s lazy/incompetent/a jerk”

There is no upside to making a disparaging remark about a colleague. If your remark is accurate, everybody already knows it, so there’s no need to point it out. If your remark is inaccurate, you’re the one who ends up looking like a jerk. There will always be rude or incompetent people in any workplace, and chances are that everyone knows who they are. If you don’t have the power to help them improve or to fire them, then you have nothing to gain by broadcasting their ineptitude. Announcing your colleague’s incompetence comes across as an insecure attempt to make you look better. Your callousness will inevitably come back to haunt you in the form of your coworkers’ negative opinions of you.

Bringing it all together

These phrases have a tendency to sneak up on you, so you’re going to have to catch yourself until you’ve solidified the habit of not saying them.

Travis Bradberry is the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmartThis article first appeared at LinkedIn.

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PHoto: psbsve via Flickr


Ronan Farrow to Loyola Marymount’s Class of 2018: ‘Trust that inner voice’

Below is the full transcript of Ronan Farrow’s commencement address to Loyola Marymount University’s Class of 2018:

Hello Class of 2018! Faculty, Administrators, Students … congratulations! Parents, you’re done! Tear down those childhood bedrooms and reclaim the extra closet space you’ve always yearned for.

Thank you President Snyder, Provost Poon and Chair Viviano, for that lavish introduction.

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As you may have concluded from said introduction, a whole lot happened in my life this past year. And I am very, very… tired. I’ve been up so long President Trump called Chuck Todd a “sleeping son of a bitch” and I just felt jealous.

I’ve been up so long I feel like a side effect in one of those uncomfortable medication ads with scenes of old people dancing.

It was an honor, this grueling past year, to crack into a series of stories that—thanks to the brave sources who risked so much to talk to me, and thanks to the brave activists who continue to turn those stories into social change—seem to be having an impact. Due not just to me but to a whole group of reporters banging their heads against the wall, cracking the tough stories… we are hearing the voices of sexual assault and harassment survivors who were for so long silent. We are grappling, as a culture, with our collective failure to create spaces that treat men and women equally and that treat everyone with respect and dignity. And we are learning a lot about how powerful men, who did despicable things, were protected for so long.

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I know that hearing a generous introduction like the one I just got…Hearing about people the way they’re introduced as commencement speakers…The way the media talks about them, after the work is done… it’s easy for it to all seem kind of fancy. Like it was always so neat and packaged, tied up with a ribbon.

I’m still tackling tough stories, involving unsavory characters, and fielding a fair amount of threats and incoming fire in the process—so I’m grateful for any kind introduction, any award, any shred of support.

But I wanted to take a moment to talk about what it’s like trying to do work you believe in *before* the moment of impact.

I’ve talked a little about challenges I faced reporting my stories on sexual violence. How the systems commanded by those powerful men I mentioned earlier came crashing down on me too. And how people I trusted turned on me. And powerful forces in the media world became instruments of suppression.

I get asked about that story a lot. And fair enough—those vast systems that conspired to keep reporting on sexual assault quiet for so long are important to understand. But there’ll be time for that later. That’s not the story I want to tell you today.

I want to tell you about a simpler and more personal side of the story. One that, without a doubt, each and every one of you will experience your own version of in the coming years. A story that could have happened not just to a journalist but to an engineer or a foreman or a teacher or a doctor or a professor or a miner.

The reality is, I was not celebrated when I set about breaking the stories I broke this past year. I was a guy doing a job at a time when few people thought I was a success story. And I don’t say that for any sympathy. I’d had incredible career opportunities. I’d done work I was proud of, which I don’t take for granted.

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But the reality is my career was on the rocks. And as a result of my tackling this story as doggedly as it did, it fell apart almost completely.

There was a moment about a year ago when I didn’t have the institutional support of my news organization. My contract was ending. And after I refused to stop work on the story, I did not have a new one. My book publisher dropped me, refusing to look at a single page of a manuscript I’d labored over for years. I found out another news outlet was racing to scoop me on the Weinstein story, and I knew I was falling behind. I did not know if I’d ever be able to report that story, or if a year of work would amount to anything. I did not know if I would let down woman after brave woman who had put their trust in me.

I had moved out of my home because I was being followed and threatened. I was facing personal legal threats from a powerful and wealthy man who said he would use the best lawyers in the country to wipe me out and destroy my future.

And, if against all odds I got through that and found a way to publish this story, I did not know whether anyone would care. Because I had spent a year in rooms with executives telling me it wasn’t a story. Because this was before the extraordinary months of conversation and analysis and acknowledgment that the suffering of these women mattered.

I’m not being falsely humble. I was sincerely at a moment when I did not know if I would have a job in journalism a month or two months after, or ever again.

And I wish I could tell you I was confident. That I was sure of myself. That I didn’t care, or I said “to hell with it.” And if there’s ever a movie I’m sure there’ll be a moment where some actor smirks and lowers his shades and says “over my dead body I’ll stop reporting” and swaggers out of the room.

But the real version of this was that I was heartbroken, and I was scared, and I had no idea if I was doing the right thing.

There were so many people in my ear at that time making such good arguments that what I was doing was a mistake. Not because they were evil, but because they looked at the world as it was a year ago and concluded, “This isn’t worth it. You’ll tell one story at the expense of so many others.” They were being rational about what our culture would accept and what it would care about, based on the existing evidence. And these were people I trusted. My bosses saying “you have got to stop, let it go.” My agent saying “it’s causing too many speed bumps for your career, you have got to let it go.” Even loved ones, saying “is this really worth it?” Pointing out that I would risk my whole career for a story that might not even make a dent.

And I seriously considered those perspectives because I felt, “Well, what do I know?” I remember a low point last fall where I hadn’t slept, and I had lost a lot of weight, and I was on the phone with my poor, long-suffering partner who dealt with a lot of really annoying calls from me during this period… and I was in a cab going from one meeting with a source to another and I had just learned I might get scooped entirely and I just fell apart. I was sobbing, and trying not to sob (which made it worse), and I’m pretty sure there was some snot happening and it was not pretty. And I remember saying “I swung too wide, I gambled too much, I lost everything and no one will even know.” And my partner said “okay, we are going to talk about all of this but also you are going to tip that cab driver really well.”

The driver’s name was Omar and he was very supportive. Thanks, Omar.

I didn’t stop. Because I knew I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t honor the risks those women had taken to expose this. But also, less nobly, because I really had gambled too much and there was no way out but through.

But I did start to think I might have made the wrong call.

In hindsight, it’s always clear whether or not your choices were the right ones. In hindsight, you know whether it was right to stick to your guns, or right to turn the other cheek. Whether it was right to not give up on a story, or right to give a little to get along, and move on—not because you’re cowardly, but because there are other stories and there’s only so much you can do.

But, in the moment, you don’t know how important a story is going to be. In the moment, you don’t know if you’re fighting because you’re right, or if you’re fighting because your ego, and your desire to win, and your notion of yourself as the hero in your own story are clouding your judgment.

You can have a feeling. You can have an instinct. You can have a gut reaction: a little inner voice that tells you what to do.

But you can’t be sure.

I am so grateful for every story of every person who stared down that uncertainty and listened to that voice telling them to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t clear it was the smart or strategic thing.

A group of juniors here, including Vandalena Mahoney, got behind the hashtag #BlackatLMU this past September, sharing the kind of stories of everyday prejudice that sometimes make us uncomfortable but are important to hear, and meeting with school administrators about race on campus.

In October, when the DACA legislation allowing people brought to this country illegally as kids to stay here longer was rescinded, Hayden Tanabe, class of 2018, organized around-the-clock lobbying and rallied the 28 Jesuit Student Body Presidents to sign a statement on the importance of supporting undocumented students.

Michael Peters, who would have graduated today, died last year awaiting an organ transplant. Friends said he was shy and quiet, but he found it in himself to write a searing op-ed in the Loyolan, highlighting the good we can all do if we become organ donors. He taught me something, even in death.

“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” That’s 1 Timothy 4:16.

The lessons of those students who stood up, and let their own strong senses of principle guide them, and tackled tough topics are important. Because this isn’t going to get easier as you go through life.

Right now, we are surrounded by a culture that tells us to take the easy way out. That tries to tip the scales in favor of getting paid rather than protesting. That tells us to kill the story instead of poking the bear.

A culture that tells us not to trust that voice that says to fight.

And the reason the culture sends us that message is that we look around and we see people taking the easy way out—doing the immoral thing, or the selfish thing—and being rewarded. And it’s easy to conclude that’s just the way the world works.

So here’s what I would say to you. No matter what you choose to do; no matter what direction you go; whether you’re a doctor treating refugees or a financier making money off of foreclosures…

And I genuinely hope you don’t do that.

… You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community.

And I hope that in that moment you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle—and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.

Because if enough of you listen to that voice—if enough of you prove that this generation isn’t going to make the same mistakes as the one before—then doing the right thing won’t seem as rare, or as hard, or as special.

No pressure or anything.

Congratulations, class of 2018.

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