Commonly Used Phrases That Work Against You

A New York Times contributor wrote an op-ed in April 2016 titled “Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like.'” The author’s reasoning was that when you use this phrase, in the words of Natasha Pangarkar, a senior at Williams College, “it gives you an out. You’re not stating a fact so much as giving an opinion. It’s an effort to make our ideas more palatable to the other person.”

An attempt to make your ideas more palatable can come from a positive motive to show more tolerance, but this particular phrase, it is argued, is a “way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group,” according to Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University.

Rather than beginning arguments with the phrase “I feel like,” the author argues that saying “I think” or “I believe” allows for more meaningful discussions.

If a phrase like this can be so pervasive, while still counter-productive, then there must be other phrases akin to this one – phrases that are common but work against your motives. We’ve taken the liberty of identifying other communication faux pas that might hinder your career ambitions. Here are a few strategies to help you get your ideas heard at work.

Humble Bragging

Here’s a fun fact about humblebragging: the term was coined by Parks And Recreation executive producer Harris Wittles. It occurs when people use false modesty as a context to tell you how amazing they are. It’s expressed often in social media posts like this:

The Harvard Business School worked with UNC’s Business School and published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The results were very clear – people don’t like humblebragging.

The study author, Ovul Sezer, says, “Sincerity is a very important dimension and we value this character trait.” Humblebragging comes off not only as insincere, but also immodest. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly pervasive in the work world.

According to the study, seventy percent of employees humblebrag, and thirty three percent of employees can recall a coworker humblebragging in the past week. Don’t be in that group!

Well, Actually

This phrase is often used during discussions to offer a counterpoint. You disagree with a point made, and start with “Well, actually…”

The problem with this statement is that it’s incredibly dismissive. If you’re looking for ways to disagree effectively, consider some techniques from this video from The BizLIbrary Collection. As we’ve stated before, the scientifically-backed best practice to deliver constructive criticism is to offer five pieces of praise for every bit of criticism.

“Well, actually” does the opposite – it offers zero praise, and completely dismisses the ideas of your coworkers. Your company can’t afford to have ideas easily dismissed because that kills innovative thought and leads people to take their talent elsewhere.


As a standalone phrase, saying “whatever” makes you appear disinterested and uncaring, and it’s very irritating to those who hear it (we’re pretty sure all parents of teenagers can testify to that).

A Marist Poll from 2017 found that one out of every three people in the U.S. find the word “whatever” to be the most bothersome word in the English language! If this is a response you use often or even occasionally, work on removing it from your lexicon!

The lesson to take away from the impact of these phrases is that it’s important to develop a sense of self-awareness by improving your emotional intelligence. If you’d like to read more about the power and strategy behind emotional intelligence training, check out our free competency guide!

Content Marketing Specialist