Sometimes, making a good impression at work comes down to just a little bit of rephrasing when you're talking to a coworker — both in person and via email.
Here are some simple tricks that my coworkers, Reddit users, and yours truly actually use to sound more professional at work (and avoid any awkward situations):
1. Instead of saying, "Sorry this is late," say, "Thanks for your patience."
"Using positive language in a negative situation can have a big impact on how you're remembered." —yourmate155
2. Instead of saying, "I don't know" when your boss asks you a question, say, "I'll find out."
"It'll make them respect you more." —Inebriatedclusterfuk
3. And instead of using the phrase "I assumed," use the phrase "my understanding was."
"The phrase 'I assumed...' has a very negative connotation, and people will view it as you jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence.
On the other hand, if you use the phrase 'My understanding was...' it has a way more positive connotation. Plus, people will just view it as you made a slight mistake in understanding, and will be far kinder to you." —FrenchJello
4. Replace "but" with "and" when you're giving feedback.
"Since the word 'but' is negative, people take it as criticism or correcting their actions. If you use the word 'and,' it feels more like constructive feedback.
See the difference with: 'Great presentation today, but next time be sure to touch on a safety topic,' versus, 'Great presentation today, and next time be sure to touch on a safety topic.'" —0ops-Sorry
5. If your job involves a lot of talking on the phone, take the time to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet.
"If you need to spell something out, you'll always have a way to clarify which letter you've said without having to think about it, and it sounds more professional than, 'B as in boy, L as in...uhhh...Larry.'" —KingPellinore
6. And outline what you're going to say on the phone — yes, even the "how are you" and "thanks for speaking with me."
This is one of my go-to tricks. No matter how many times I interview someone on the phone for an article, I get nervous beforehand. Sure, I'll have my questions outlined, but what I find just as helpful is writing down my opening remarks. It's always a little awkward when you first get on the phone with someone, and you don't want to sound unprofessional right off the bat, stumbling through what should be the easiest part of your conversation. So, to make sure I don't forget the obvious stuff like a total newbie, I write down things like "thanks for speaking with me" and "is this still good time to chat?"
7. If you're wondering if you should go to a meeting because you're afraid it'll waste your time, ask, "Is there an agenda?"
"If I had a dollar for every meeting I've sat in that could have just been an email, I would probably live in a bigger apartment. Asking whether an agenda has been created is a polite way of asking whether or not there's a legit plan for the meeting. If you ask early enough, this can also act as a prompt for the meeting organizer to make a plan before they waste anyone's time. And, bonus: it can help you prepare for the meeting in advance." —Gyan Yankovich
8. If you're a manager, when introducing members of your team, say, "We work together," rather than, "They work for me."
"You'll get far more respect from your team and it shows that you're part of the team, not above it." —S2kDriver
9. If you're confused about something in a meeting or an email, ask, "Am I correct in understanding that..." instead of staying silent or saying, "I don't get it."
"It implies that you were actually listening and paying attention, and oftentimes, explaining your thoughts to the person will help you realize you do actually understand what's going on." —Terri Pous
10. Avoid using the words "easy" and "hard" at work, and instead use "straightforward" and "challenging."
"A good friend of mine recently called me out for saying something was easy. I was like, 'What? It is.' He said no, because then I can just expect that you'll get it done by, let's say, tomorrow. Instead, use 'straightforward,' and if something is hard, use 'challenging.' Because if it's hard, it will just seem that you're not very good at it. If you say 'challenging' and you accomplish it, then you'll seem like a hero!" —Nickdyville
11. Know how to redirect a conversation that's going off the rails.
"At one of my previous jobs at a small startup, I was in a meeting with a few coworkers, my direct manager, and my skip-level manager (the CEO). The CEO was being reallllllly aggro, and just sort of berating our work for no apparent reason. You could sort of feel everyone in the room's blood pressure rising as the CEO got increasingly harsh. Finally, my manager said something to the effect of, 'I'd like to pause and see if we can reframe this conversation in a more positive way, because I'm honestly feeling a bit defensive right now.' It was a really elegant way of saying, 'Hey, this isn't normal or OK' to both the CEO and to everyone else in the room, and using the word 'positive' made it feel, well, positive." —Rachel Wilkerson Miller
12. When addressing a group, use "folks" instead of gendered words like "guys" or "ladies."
You could also begin your meeting or email with "Hi all," but I always find "folks" to be more approachable. If things are pretty casual at your office, you could even use "y'all." Either way, you want to make sure you're being as inclusive as possible at your workplace, so stick with gender-neutral words.
13. Avoid phrasing statements as questions?
Sometimes, I catch my voice creeping up at the end of a statement I'm making during a meeting in order to soften whatever idea I'm trying to express. This isn't exactly disastrous, but I've realized that it mostly comes from a lack of confidence. So, I now make an effort to keep my statements sounding like, well, statements. When you phrase a pitch or comment as a question, it can come across as shaky, like you don't have enough information. All it takes is a quick reminder to yourself: "Don't end it with a question mark."
14. Similarly, avoid using "just" when explaining yourself.
Trust me, this can be a hard habit to break, but I try my best not to start sentences with a passive "just." For example, beginning an email with "I just wanted to follow up about those edits" sounds unnecessarily apologetic, and less professional than "I wanted to follow up about those edits." Cutting out the "just" when you're telling someone what you're after is much more direct.
15. And if you're always forgetting the names of people you meet at work, greet everyone with, "It's nice to see you."
"This greeting works both if you have met before and if you haven't. It has saved me from embarrassment many times." —WayTooManyOpinions