We talk a lot about the words and phrases that professional, successful people say every day. (For example, here, here, and here.) And we've also devoted a lot of effort to exploring the other side of the coin -- the habits and words that unprofessional, unsuccessful people can't seem to shake. (For example, here, here, here, and here.)
Now, I've pulled it all together into a single resource: a comprehensive, all-in-one guide to the most hackneyed, overused, and syllogistic sayings that unprofessional people use. Often, they don't even realize it.
(I know there are others. The best examples below came from readers who contacted me with smart suggestions -- which leads me to ask again: Please, contact me and let me know about others you think should be included.)
I've learned a lot in compiling this list, and I've already become more mindful of the things I say. I hope it helps you too. With that, here's a list of the top 100.
1. "That's just how it is."
Some people ask why; others ask why not. Unprofessional people simply accept things as they are.
2. "I'm not feeling well enough... "
We all feel under the weather sometimes (and some of us have legitimate medical issues). However, truly unsuccessful people use unwellness as an excuse for inaction.
3. "I'm doing what you told me to do... "
This is the saga of the slow players. They're basically saying that the blame isn't on them for failing to find a way to make things work; it's yours for failing to micromanage them.
4. "It's none of your business."
Some things are meant to be kept private, but where others are truly interested, refusing to share information is often about protecting fiefdoms.
5. "That was my idea!"
Ideas are nice, but execution is what matters. Unprofessional people just don't understand that.
6. "Before you say that, let me just say... "
God forbid they let anyone else get a word in edgewise. Unprofessional people have to dominate the conversation.
7. "That's not my job."
Really? You're going to deflect responsibility when there's an important job to be done? (I used to work at a government agency where people would say, "That's not my function," as if they were robots.) Unprofessional.
8. "Do you know what I mean?"
It's good to make sure the people are on the same page, but when you use this phrase at the end of every sentence, it's annoying and unprofessional.
Really? You put one over on somebody, and now you're unprofessional enough to comment on it?
10. "Sorry I'm late... "
We all run behind sometimes, but when this becomes your mantra, it indicates that you don't value other people's time. That's really unprofessional.
11. "No problem."
This is admittedly my crusade: to get people to stop saying this in place of "You're welcome." It's the same number of syllables, so it takes no more effort, but one phrase suggests respect; the other suggests pure unprofessionalism.
12. "We've got big plans!"
Plans are nice. You know what's nicer? Achievements.
13. "I'm a guru."
A guru? Unless you mean that you are a Buddhist or Hindu spiritual teacher, it's time to retire this world from professional descriptions. In fact, only unprofessional people still use it.
14. "They'll never notice."
Wow. So that's the standard? Nothing says unprofessional like trying to pass off shoddy work as something of quality.
15. "I know you have to go but let me tell you one more thing... "
Combining the self-centeredness of No. 6 with the lack of respect for others' time of No. 10, unprofessional people use this phrase to dominate and ignore what others truly need.
16. "I can't forgive."
Refusing to forgive usually punishes you more than whoever offended you. Forgetting might be a different story -- but unprofessional people don't know the difference.
17. "That's nothing... "
Whether it's said in the context of sour grapes or cutting down someone else's accomplishments, this phrase conveys no positive sentiments and marks you as a jealous, unprofessional person.
18. "Let's go along to get along."
While comity may be a worthwhile goal, unprofessional people use this saying as an excuse to give up.
19. "Oh, let me one-up you..."
People don't actually say this, but we know the behavior. Someone tells a story, then someone else tries to steal the spotlight. Unprofessional, through and through.
20. Vocal fry.
Not a phrase of course, but the croaking, along with the question-sounding declarative sentence structure, and the tone of condescension and detachment -- it all conveys a sense of unprofessionalism.
21. "That's too hard."
I once had a co-worker who had three boxes on his desk: "in," "out," and "too hard." I think it was a joke, but it still made him look unprofessional.
22. "It's our policy... "
This really means, "we don't care about what you want; we're doing it this way." There's no better way to show customers that you're unprofessional.
23. "Guess what I heard!"
Gossip, gossip, gossip, gossip, gossip, gossip -- unprofessional.
25. "I already know that."
God forbid they keep their mouth closed long enough to learn something new.
26. "You must have misunderstood... "
Granted, sometimes other people do misunderstand things. However, at other times, unprofessional people use this phrase to equivocate and get out of doing things they'd agreed or even promised to do.
27. "I've got mine... "
So much for everyone else. It's not only unprofessional -- it's downright selfish.
28. "I just wanted to... "
Another phrase that could mean nothing -- or, depending on context, could indicate a highly unprofessional and unconfident person minimizing their otherwise legitimate request. (As in, "I just wanted to ask if ...")
29. "Look what I bought!"
Sometimes a conversation starter, this phrase can also indicate a highly unprofessional shopaholic who thinks status comes with the things you acquire.
30. "We're totally screwed!"
Nothing like a lack of bearing and perspective to make you seem very unprofessional.
Agreement like this is unprofessional -- at least when the truth is actually "no," but you're too afraid or passive aggressive to say it.
32. "I quit!"
Yes, sometimes it's time to quit. Rarely is it time to announce your departure with drama -- unless you're trying to show how unprofessional you can be.
In this context, we're talking about the "sorry" that's used instead of "excuse me" -- like when you interrupt someone or push your way through a crowded room.
34. "I'll start tomorrow... "
Because procrastination is the mark of a true professional. (No wait: the opposite of that.)
35. "Ha ha ha ha... "
Laughter is great. Nervous, anxious laughter is the mark of an unprofessional person.
36. "What's in it for me?"
Yes, professionals get paid for their work -- but truly professional people are able to see the long game, and to understand that sometimes you simply help other people without expecting remuneration.
37. "You're doing it wrong."
Nitpicking? That's the mark of a micromanaging, unprofessional person.
38. "I could care less."
Uncaring is unprofessional -- and on top of that, you're using the phrase wrong.
39. "I want revenge."
When people are wronged, they usually want to be made whole, but focusing on revenge excludes any real chances of positive outcomes.
40. "Sorry (not sorry)."
You know you should apologize, you understand why. Yet, not only do you refuse to do so, you passive-aggressively pretend to have done so. Wildly unprofessional.
41. "You should be ashamed."
When people should be ashamed, they know it. They don't need unprofessional people piling on.
42. "Sorry, I forgot."
File this one with No. 10 -- "Sorry I'm late." Everyone forgets things sometimes, but truly unprofessional people find themselves saying this constantly.
43. "You guys... "
Guys? Sure, if they're friends or peers, but when you start referring to work colleagues, bosses, or even clients like this, you've crossed the line into the realm of the unprofessional.
44. "Um, like... "
Everyone stammers sometimes; truly unprofessional people rely on these verbal crutches because they can't string a real sentence together.
45. "I'm so bored... "
Only unprofessional people fail to understand that when you're bored, it's usually because of yourself. Find a way to learn, interact, or enjoy -- or at least stop complaining.
46. "You're fired!"
Of course it's sometimes necessary to let an employee go, but the tone of urgency here suggests an unprofessional employer has allowed the situation to fester.
47. "Check out that... "
Sounds like you're probably leering and edging toward sexual harassment here. So unless you're a store manager telling a cashier to finish a checkout... unprofessional.
48. "That's not funny."
Humor. It's an important quality. Unprofessional people often don't have it.
49. "I'm not feeling it."
This is a useful phrase for when you can't articulate a "why," or you don't have the bravery required to explain to others why you plan to go against what they're advocating -- but you're trying nevertheless to hide your unprofessionalism. (Unsuccessfully, one might add.)
50. "Are you mad at me?"
Professional people are empathetic. Unprofessional people are needy and unconfident, which leads them to ask this phrase repeatedly. They don't know the answer, although maybe they secretly think the other person should be mad at them.
51. "Because I said so."
This is the least persuasive argument ever, hardly useful even in dealing with 2-year-olds and teenagers.
Strategic cursing is professional. Cursing because you're not creative or articulate enough to come up with something better to say is the mark of an unprofessional person.
53. "I don't know why you didn't see me... "
Um, maybe because you weren't there to be seen? Unprofessional people use all kinds of excuses to explain why they're not around to help -- especially when it's actually part of their job.
54. "I'm jealous of you!"
I suppose envy can serve as a motivational tool, but articulating it like this -- whether explicitly or implicitly -- is another mark of an unprofessional person who can't control his or her emotions.
55. "That's great (for you)... "
Praise disguised as condescension reveals the unconfident and unprofessional nature of the person uttering it.
56. "That's not my fault!"
When plans fall apart, professional people seek to find a way to make it work --unprofessional people's first priority is to shift the blame.
57. "I do apologize... "
A sincere apology is always appreciated, but the addition of that little word -- "do" -- in the middle of the sentence sends a subtle message. "I'm saying these words only because I have to, not because I mean them" -- and I'm totally unprofessional.
58. "Let's just hope it goes away."
Ignoring something is hardly a strategy for dealing with a difficult situation. Besides, bad news rarely gets better with age.
59. "I'm so busy!!!"
You know what? It's the mark of our age -- everybody's busy! It's just that professional people don't feel the need to remind everyone else of this fact.
60. "It is what it is."
While technically true, this statement doesn't shed much light on any situation. It's good for unprofessional people who want to deflect serious analysis, though.
61. "I just can't empathize."
Really? Because professional people make it a priority to try to understand how others see things. But I suppose you can just throw your hands in the air and give up.
62. "Hey, it's your money."
When you say this, you suggest that you know better, but that you're going to go along because you're happy to get paid for something you don't believe in. In other words: short-term gain, long-term loss -- and ultimately, very unprofessional.
63. "Why?" (as opposed to "Why not?")
Curiosity is great, but whining plaintiveness is unprofessional. Follow the late great Bobby Kennedy's exhortation to ask "Why not?" and improve the world.
64. "It's probably not very good... "
This is the kind of expectation-lowering phrase that unprofessional people offer before they share their work. Believe in what you do -- or else, do something else.
65. "That'll never work."
Naysaying is a wonderful strategy, if failure is your goal.
66. "Full disclosure... "
So, you have a conflict of interest -- and yet you expect me to trust you to characterize it, and probably minimize it? The problem here isn't making the disclosure -- it's the unprofessional suggestion that you've "fully" revealed it. Have you?
67. "Mumble mumble mumble... "
Mumbling or uttering things under your breath is highly unprofessional. If you don't have the courage to stand behind your words, don't say them.
68. "You're so smart!" (kissing up)
Compliments are great -- kissing up, not so much.
67. "It's not fair!"
Life isn't fair, and nobody promised that it would be. With the caveat that you can say this to express empathy (see No. 61), it's usually an unprofessional complaint.
As shorthand, I guess this is OK. But only an unprofessional person with low expectations of life would settle for meh.
69. "Nom nom nom..."
All things in moderation. If you routinely make this sound when you're eating, chances are others see you as unprofessional.
70. "I'm so drunk... "
People have been drinking too much since time immemorial, and at the risk of making an ethnic stereotype -- my name is Murphy; I'm unlikely to judge. Still, see No. 69: all things in moderation. If you find yourself saying this too often, I guarantee we can describe how others see you.
71. "I'm so hung-over... "
In a professional setting, are you kidding? This is 100 percent your fault, and explaining your hangover makes it seem like you're soliciting permission not to perform to your full capacity.
72. "I don't know why they asked me... "
Yet another expectation-lowering phrase uttered by unprofessional people when they've been asked to share their gifts or knowledge with a team -- but they don't actually have confidence in themselves.
73. "We've always done it this way."
Oh, okay, I guess that ends all debate. Unprofessional people are afraid of change and progress, and saying this makes that clear.
74. "That's my secret."
Once again, this is the kind of phrase unprofessional people use when they're afraid that their value is limited to a small piece of knowledge or easily replaced skill, rather than the ability to learn and execute new things.
75. "I'm not afraid."
Really? Often fear is a very useful and legitimate emotion. In fact, there's no courage without fear -- you have to face your fears in order to overcome them.
76. "I'll get to it later."
Will you? Because this phrase is uttered most often by unprofessional procrastinators who never actually accomplish what they say they're going to do.
77. "It's all good."
Is it really? Or are you just saying this out of an inability to face difficult issues head on?
78. "It's my turn!"
Your turn, huh? While professional people stand up for themselves, unprofessional people wait in line -- and then act surprised when life passes them by.
79. "I assume... "
Life requires assumptions, but we often hear unprofessional people saying this phrase when they really mean, "I'm too lazy to confirm, but... "
80. "Not gonna happen."
There are times when we have to face reality -- but the wording of this phrase has a lord-it-over quality that only unprofessional people think is appropriate.
81. "Because I'm the boss."
You've been waiting for this one, right? While technically accurate, if this is the best argument you can give for why an employee should do something, you're probably not very professional.
82. "Yes... "
...when you mean "no." Unprofessional, and sadly lacking in confidence.
When you're actually seething and don't have the courage to say what you really think, saying nothing displays passive aggression and lack of professionalism.
84. "Screw you" (or worse).
Right, because unbridled aggression indicates a calm, quiet professional person.
85. "I'm not impressed."
Is studied detachment a positive quality? Regardless, it's not particularly professional.
86. "That's a stupid idea."
This combines the pessimism of No. 65 with the condescension of No. 55. It's not a winning combination.
87. "Information is a commodity."
I'm not sure people actually say this anymore, but they do act upon it -- once again, holding their small pieces of relevance close to the heart, and bleeding professionalism with every clutch.
88. "Look how much I saved!"
Related to No. 29, this not only suggests you measure your worth by what you've bought -- but that you don't understand that by spending money, you don't actually save.
89. "I could've done it better."
Perhaps. But you didn't. And a truly professional person would know better than to say it.
90. "I'm overwhelmed!"
Perhaps you are, and professional people are confident enough to ask for help. However, if you're exclaiming this looking for pity or permission to slack off, chances are others will see you as unprofessional.
91. "You must have read into things."
Here's a secret: people only say this when they understand that they led others in the wrong direction, and are now seeking to deflect the blame. Verdict: unprofessional.
92. "Whose fault is that?"
Related to No. 56, this a phrase that unprofessional people use to shift the focus from accomplishing things to assigning blame for what they haven't accomplished.
93. "That will never happen."
"Never" is an awfully long time. Going out too far on a ledge like that is the mark of an unprofessional person.
94. "I could tell you but I'd have to kill you."
Combines the fiefdom protecting of No. 4 and the insecurity of No. 87, with an annoying habit of quoting 30-year-old Tom Cruise movies. It's time for all but the most unprofessional of us to retire this phrase.
95. "It'll be OK."
Reassuring as this phrase may seem, it can also mask an unprofessional person's refusal to face facts and improve performance.
96. "I'm kind of a big deal."
Amusing, but if you have to say this, it's probably not true.
97. "Could be... "
Just about everything in life is possible. This phrase is used by unprofessional people who don't want to commit one way or the other to a prediction, but instead want to change the subject before they're asked tough and pointed questions.
98. "You wouldn't understand."
Put differently, this means either, "I don't understand," or, "I'm not a good enough teacher to be able to explain it to you." Either way: unprofessional.
99. "What will it take to get you to buy?"
This hackneyed phrase -- or variations thereof -- is uttered by old-school salespeople who are more adept at annoying than closing deals. Set aside the sales pitches that make you look over the hill, and act a little more professional.
100. "Know your place."
Know your strengths and weaknesses? Sure. Know yourself? Absolutely. But it's only unprofessional people who resent others' successes who would utter this phrase (or a variation).
I'm sure there are others. Don't forget to contact me and let me know your suggestions for the next time we revisit this subject, or else leave them in the comments below.