Frank Chen

Frank Chen

work phrases to avoid so you're not an asshole

If you ever end up in a managerial position at work, or better yet, if you want a smoother working relationship with your team, I would pay very close attention as to how you're communicating with team members.

Most of the time, you want to play with folks side by side, not a "I'll tell you what to do" type of relationship. The latter ends up poorly except in the case where the person being told what to do is entirely submissive and has no issues with long task lists. This might be fine for an intern, but even then, I anticipate them ramping up after a short time.

The root of this issue seems to come from written or spoken statements, which usually aren't purposefully destructive or intentionally harmful but have somehow become the norm in the working world. They're cunningly disguised.

"Hey, is there any chance you can [action]?"

which really means: "Can you do this now? I'd like this done, you're the one to do it, and I'm banking on the fact that you'll agree with me."

"Hey, it would be great if you can [action]."

which really means: "Can you do this now? I don't want to sound mean but please do this."

"Hey, we should start doing [action]."

which really means: "I don't think I have time to do this, but can you get started on it?"

"Hey, should we start doing [action]?"

which really means: "I don't think I have time to do this, and I'm implicitly thinking you'll pick up on the fact that we need this soon (now) and you should get started on it."

"Hey, do you have time to do [action]."

which really means: "Can you do this as soon as possible?"

Maybe I'm exaggerating slightly, but for the most part, I'm not. The context of the ask is important. These phrases by themselves are not intended to harm or assume immediate action, but if they are casually dropped in at the end of a discussion or even worse, without any discussion, I can guarantee you that in the long run, you will have poor or no team dynamics. Even if they aren't designed to harm, they can be interpreted differently given team "hierarchy" dynamics.

For many of these phrases, or "asks" as you could call them, they're really all cleverly softened phrases that essentially ask you do something for them. This is a one-way street. A wants B to do something. B is allowed to fight back, but the result of cancelling A's request are a toss up. These are essentially nicer ways to say "do this".

Instead of these phrases, why don't we bring these things types of things early, often, and clearly to team members to include them as a viable partners in crime?

"Hey, so I'm sure you've heard we're working on initiative W a couple weeks back. I'm running point on sales and meeting with some biz-dev folks, and because you're our head of analytics, you're in the perfect position to help me understand A, B, and C.

Before we take this any further, I'd love to hear your take on this, and whether or not you think it's a priority in the larger scheme of things. We can async offline or grab 30-min chat so I can get your expertise on this. What do you think?"

The difference in this type of communication is that they have a SAY in the whole matter. You are asking for their expertise. Their time is valuable. You aren't pre-committing them to anything. If they deem it a worthwhile venture, then surprise, you've influenced one of your teammates to help fight alongside of you. If not yet convinced, you at least open the door for conversation. It's not an immediate ask. Nothing is one fire.

This also goes to say there must be good thinking to back whatever initiative W is. If the initiative isn't well thought out, completely idiotic, or is just full of operational gaps, you're setting yourself and your team up to fail. Try pitching it to yourself several times before you bring it to the folks who have the expertise you're looking for.

Let's bring back longer, more thoughtful lines of communication.

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