Sound Smarter at Work: 12 Words and Phrases to Avoid

Communication plays a big role in how you’re perceived and it affects your ability to move projects forward. Some language dumbs you down or undermines your meaning and you could be misunderstood by those around you. Therefore, you should avoid some phrases and words to make you sound smarter and more professional at work.

Author Lynn Taylor puts it this way: “Your ability to articulate your thoughts and ideas will have a direct correlation to how well you garner cooperation and persuade the team to support your efforts and projects.”

Compare these two sentences:

  • I think I can make the airport in time.
  • I KNOW I can make the airport in time.

Subtle differences in language can have a huge impact. If you want to become more successful, make a habit of talking and thinking smarter by avoiding these common words and phrases.

1. At the end of the day.

What does that mean? This is an overused cliché. It was fresh once, but no more. Now it muddies the water (See that? Another tired cliché!) Use phrases that are clear. At least “the bottom line” has some meaning if you’re referring to whether something is going to make money.

2. If our competitors don’t have it, we don’t need it.

Copying competitors is not a winning strategy. Think about it: if you can figure out what competitors aren’t doing, you can fill that niche. Innovation comes from looking at the flip side.

3. This is the way it’s always been done.

There are some phrases that instantly change the way people see us. They cast us in a negative light.

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This phrase makes you sound lazy and resistant to change. Technology is changing fast. Things current six months ago are now passé. If you ARE doing things as they’ve always been done, there probably is a better way.

4. No problem.

This implies the request was a problem. It makes people feel they have made an imposition. Try saying, “It was my pleasure,” or “I’ll be happy to take care of it.“ This change will have a big impact.

5. I’m going to ask a stupid question, or This may be a silly idea…

These phrases erode credibility. No matter how good the idea, people will have lost confidence in it. If you’re not confident in your idea, no one else will be either.

6. Just

This word instantly minimizes the power of your statements. It makes you seem defensive or apologetic. Saying, “I just wanted to check in,” comes across as “Sorry for taking up your time.” It’s sounds like you feel you’re bugging them.

Simply scan your emails and text and delete any instances of “just.” Notice how much stronger most statements sound: “I wanted to check in.”

7. Honestly.

Honestly is used to add emphasis. The problem is, if you say a statement is honest, you imply the rest aren’t!

8. Absolutely.

Adding this word to a sentence is redundant. Take the phrase “Absolutely necessary.” Necessary means necessary. Adding absolutely doesn’t make it more so.

9. Amazing. defines the word amaze as “to overwhelm with surprise or sudden wonder; astonish greatly.” Synonyms include astound, dumfound, stun, flabbergast. Unfortunately, the word “amazing” is everywhere. Is EVERYTHING amazing? “Amazing” has lost its power.

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10. Irregardless.

Did you know that many dictionaries don’t even include “irregardless” as a word? It’s a non-standard version of the word “regardless.” It’s best to avoid using it, unless you want to open yourself up to the debate of whether it’s a word. It is also considered a double-negative. Double negatives are an entire subject by themselves! Say “regardless” and you can avoid the debate.

11. As I said before.

This sounds like you’re insulted at having to repeat yourself. Instead, simply restate your message in another manner in an interesting way. It will help people remember what you said.

12. Let’s nip that in the butt.

The correct phrase is “nip it in the bud.” In gardening, when you nip something in the bud you’re stopping it before it flowers. Nipping something in the butt only applies if your dog is chasing the mailman.


It’s never OK to use vulgar language or profanity at work. It’s unprofessional and dumbs you down. Author Ann Taylor provides this suggestion: “Having a trash mouth never got anyone promoted, and can get you into trouble at work. Save it for your ride home (unless you take mass transit.)


Article by Cindy Solberg

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Categories:   Career, Self-improvement