Five Things To Never Say At Work!

Loose lips sink ships—especially at work! Learn what NEVER to say at work.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
More than 10 years ago Joe worked for me. He was a good employee, hard-working, thorough, and very likable.  I fired him! You heard me right, I fired him! Why? Because he naively forwarded a joke and it offended someone. Joe had violated corporate policy and I was forced to let him go.

5 Things You Should Never Say At Work

Although these articles are usually dedicated to helping you learn what to say or how to say things better, today’s article is about what NOT to say. Specifically we'll cover five things you should never say at work.

Especially today with technology for recording and forwarding at our fingertips, you must assume that anything you say, at any moment, will be recorded and repeated at high volume to everyone you know and everyone you don't know.

Unfortunately, once you say it, it's out there. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to change that first impression. Yeah, you can try to apologize, but by then the damage has already been done.

So here are the top five things never to say at work:

1. Jokes Can Get You Fired--No Joke

 The first tip is the lesson that Joe learned the hard way. Off-color jokes, at work, are no laughing matter. You can easily offend people in ways that never even occurred to you. That’s what happened to Joe, he passed along a joke that he thought was funny and someone else thought was offensive.

This is where the old adage, "Better safe than sorry," seems to have merit. Please, just wait until you get home to share that great joke with your friends and family. Or, if you want to be funny at work, consider telling self-deprecating jokes instead.

Don't get me wrong, I love a laugh. I always look forward to reading the joke e-mails that I get from my friend, Fred. In fact, I highly recommend big belly laughs every day, because it lowers blood pressure and activates endorphins that make you feel good! What I don’t recommend is telling jokes at work that are indecent or impolite.

2. Never Make Assumptions About Someone's Personal Situation

Speaking of being impolite, questions like "Are you pregnant?" "When are you due?" “You must be his mother, right?” or “Is that your daughter?” are all questions you should avoid, because if you are wrong, you might find yourself in hot water. Let me explain.

A junior researcher recently told me he attended an event with a very prestigious senior scientist. A young toddler was standing next to the scientist. The researcher had met the senior scientist’s college-age son in the past, so in an effort to strike up some friendly conversation he naturally said, "Is that your grandson?" When the senior scientist explained that the pre-schooler was his other SON, it was very clear to the young researcher that he had just offended the scientist—obviously, his words had the exact opposite effect he was shooting for.

Don’t ever make assumptions about someone’s personal situation or sexual orientation. You never know, that young “hottie” standing next to grandpa just might be his wife! Or worse, the old bag that you mistook for his mother is really his wife! It’s best just to wait until the person directly tells you; because if you guess and you get it wrong, you’re likely to offend.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.