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

3. Never Say “Nice Legs!” or “Are They Real?”

Speaking of offensive comments, of course, you should never say anything that can get you into legal hot water. However, sometimes we speak without thinking. 

Author Carol White shared one of the worst moments of her 35-year career. She said, to a male subordinate who was wearing shorts, “Nice legs!” She told me, “It fell out of my mouth before I knew what I’d said!” Unfortunately, I don’t think the “Oops, it just slipped out” defense would hold up in court.

Vice president at U.S. News & World Report, Mike W. White, suggests not to say "I'll have my girl call your girl." I don’t know if that can get you in legal trouble, but, I do think many women find that offensive and it’s probably a good idea to follow Mike’s advice (unless you want a mob of women waiting to tar and feather you in the corporate parking lot).

4. Never Tell Anyone, "My Boss/Client is a Jerk"

Anytime you speak at work, you should assume that your words will be shared with everyone.

Keeping with our theme of not being offensive, you should never tell anyone that you think your boss is a jerk. Be especially careful not to share that opinion at work--especially with your boss’s assistant! Karen DeSemple of Eternal Maternal told me this story.  Karen was Joe's assistant and she was traveling with a new employee, Sharon.  "Sharon and I were on a business trip and sharing a room.  She went on a tirade for about 30 minutes telling me all the things that she didn't agree with and that she wasn't going to do what Joe had told her needed to be done.  Little did she know that Joe was the first person I told!" Turns out Sharon was only with the company another month--what a surprise.

Again, anytime you speak at work, you should assume that your words will be shared with everyone, including the person you think is a jerk. Today you even need to think about comments and messages that you post online.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter told me a story about her friend who vented her frustration about a client by posting to an online support forum. Unfortunately, she used an unflattering name to describe her client and someone else who saw the post (maybe her competition?) forwarded the message to the client. Ruth told me that the client called her friend in a fury, yelling and cursing, and threatened to sue her for libel.

Lessons learned? Although venting your true feelings might feel good at the time, clearly it’s not worth losing a job or a client.

5. Don't Discuss Private Business in Public Places

Speaking of losing clients, don’t discuss private business in public areas. If you have traveled on any major rail line, I am sure you’ve heard, as I have, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other busy professionals discussing private client matters. While I understand the need to get work done during long commutes, is it really worth the risk of violating privacy?

My friend, Larissa, is a partner in a law firm and she has heard many stories of lawyers talking about their clients in the elevator or train only to find the client or even worse, their opponent, right there too! Long ago, she took me to a famous Philadelphia restaurant with a domed roof and showed me how in certain spots, a quiet whisper at one table could be heard clear across the room. Who knew?

Lessons learned? Please, no private business in public!

Recap: What You Should Never Say at Work 

So what’s the big lesson we learn from all of these?

Loose lips sink ships!

OK, for those of you saying, huh? What the heck does that mean? Let me explain. During WWII the US government developed the “Loose lips may sink ships” slogan to remind people both overseas and at home to not share information that would help the enemy. The idea was that silence was security.

So, I'd like to end this episode with a friendly reminder that loose lips may sink ships … don’t let the ship be your career.

And stay tuned. In my next episode we'll cover five more things to never say at work!


If you have questions about how to communicate better at work, email publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. Sign up for Lisa's newsletter or get information about speeches and workshops by visiting lisabmarshall.com
Passionate about communication; your success is my business!

Co-Workers image courtesy of Shutterstock


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.