Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The ‘DO NOT SAY’ List

After discussing self-discounting language in a communications class last week, a participant suggested that I create a “DO NOT SAY” list. I thought it was a great idea. Having a list of phrases to avoid can help people steer clear of language that could have a negative impact on their careers, particularly if used frequently.

Listed below are my top six suggestions for the “DO NOT SAY” list. Using these comments in business (and life) can diminish your stature in the eyes of others, minimize what you are saying, or tarnish your professional image.

· Can I ask a question? You don’t have to ask permission; just ask the question.

· I’m sorry to bother you. Why are you a bother? You can say, “Excuse me. Do you have a moment?”

· I was hoping that you could spare a few moments. Same as above. Simply say, “Excuse me. Do you have a moment?”

· Thank you for listening to me. At the end of a presentation, you should say, “Thank you.” This lets the audience know that the presentation is over. You don’t have to thank people for listening to you. Aren’t your comments and opinions worthwhile?

· I will be honest with you. Aren’t you always honest? You don’t need to use this phrase.

· I was just wondering if perhaps. This phrase is a passive way of asking a question or backing into a statement. You can eliminate “I was just wondering if perhaps” and simply ask a question or make a statement. Instead of “I was just wondering if perhaps there will be enough computers for the project?” you can say, “Will there be enough computers for the project?”

Let’s build on this list. I was just wondering if perhaps you would send me your suggestions for the list? No, of course I wouldn’t say that! Please send me your favorite phrases to add to the list. Thank you.

Additional tips on communication can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw-Hill)


  1. I could relate to each of the items in the list and the reaction I have when I hear them!

    My contribution is when a particular ex-boss used to call us into the room to basically tell us what to do but wanted to make it seem like a team decision. Mr Boss would start with " I was thinking....".

  2. From A Reader:
    Great list Barbara! In fact, culture plays a large part of something asked most recently, "May I make a suggestion?" You may use this for your list.

    After a lengthy business conversation with a colleague last week, she asked why I occasionally add, "May I make a suggestion?" Naturally, I paused the conversation and said, "I was taught by my parents not to assume people care to hear the opinion of others."

    Perhaps a shift in perspective would be in order here.

    Through the twists and turns of our conversation, we established that the essence of why I say "May I suggest something" was simply in being polite and unassuming. If you were associated with me in anyway you would not question confidence as being the motive behind "May I make a suggestion?"

    We have lived in the Chicagoland area for eight years. Do Americans perceive this question as limp?

  3. From A Reader:

    One of the phrases that I pick up on real quick is the use of "whatever" when someone makes a statement or comment.

    To me this is really offensive and dismisses the opinions or statements of others in a manner that is rude.

  4. From A Reader:
    I like this list and plan to put it into use right away. Great tips!

  5. From A Reader:
    Love these, Barbara! You certainly hit the nail on the head with these.

  6. From A Reader:
    My suggestion is "Can you do me a favor?"...

  7. Great post! In my opinion, and especially in the business world, "good manners" does not mean "extreme caution" but to develop our relational skills from the very deep within of our personality and professionalism. Politeness needs assertiveness.
    By Francisco González-Barros - Madrid, Spain

  8. From A Reader:
    Thank you so much, Barbara, for this awesome contribution! In my opinion, and especially in the business world, "good manners" does not mean "extreme caution" but to develop our relational skills from the very deep within of our personality and professionalism. Politeness needs assertiveness.

  9. From A Reader:
    I agree that these phrases can put people on the defensive and should be avoided.

  10. From A Reader:
    What about the phrase, "This is not a criticism, BUT...." or "I am not complaining, BUT...." I read those as red flags when a person uses them to start their verbatim.

  11. From A Reader:
    I do not believe phrases such as, "May I suggest something," are passive; they are polite lead-ins to conversations under certain circumstances; eliminating them can make on sound abrupt. Many of the phrases you cite should be eliminated in one's writing, but I believe they can serve a purpose in the spoken word.

  12. From a Reader:
    Barbara, a phrase that immediately discounts rather than appreciates what another person is saying is, "I already knew that!" I consider this a "DO NOT SAY" phrase.

    This particular phrase, "I already knew that" will often be counterproductive. In fact, I speak from experience. Most recently, someone said "I already knew that" as I was sharing what I thought was a unique concept and helpful to others. Without delay, I smiled and silenced my speaking. After all, rarely does someone say "I already knew that," without continuing on. It is another form of interrupting someone when they are speaking and is an impolite thing to do.

    "I already knew that," does make others feel like their contribution is outdated or worthless. Children say "I already knew that" when they are bragging and what all the attention for themselves. So do adults.

    In my opinion, it is better to give others their moment and be interested in what they say rather than display a disinterest by what you know.

  13. From A Reader:
    Obviously I cannot say it.

  14. I can relate to the comment posted on October 11, 2012 7:32 AM

    In my culture one never does simply pose questions or make suggestions without ensuring the agreement of the other party. It is considered extremely rude to make suggestions or to insist on answers without securing this agreement. "May I please make a suggestion" and/or "May I please take a minute of your time to pose you a question" are mandatory in polite society where I come from.

    Barbara Pachter's suggestion seems culture specific to her home region, New Jersey.

  15. From A Reader:
    Barbara, this is a great list of self-discounting phrases. It may also be helpful to compile a list of "disclaimer" phrases that result in discounting others. Brutal honesty, for example, is often conveyed with phrases such as "Don't take this personally but..." or "I hate to tell you this but..." or "No offense to you but...." The remark that follows is often painful or offensive to the other person.

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