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The Five Most Annoying Workplace Phrases

The older I get, the more I'm bothered by certain idioms of the workplace, the common questions and ways of phrasing things that we've all heard a million times.

Without further delay, here's my starter list of the five most tired phrases that need to be consigned to the dustbin of workplace history, the sooner the better.

(1.) "Are you still working on that?" I'm sorry, but no one "works" on food. We work on projects. We work on our cars and homes. We work on fixing problems. Sometimes we even work at annoying other people, depending on the circumstances. But we eat food. Do we look like we're wearing hard hats as we work on our fiesta burrito plates? No. Who knows where this workplace idiom came from, but it's like a fork being dragged across a shiny, white plate every time it's uttered in a fine dining establishment. A simple "Are you done with your meal?" would be much more appreciated.

(2.) "Can I put you on hold?" When it comes down to it, does the caller have much of a choice? Half the time the person on the other end puts us on hold before we even have a chance to answer the question, anyway. It reminds me of when I was growing up and my mom would ask me what I wanted to drink with my dinner and I'd say "soda!" and she would say, "No, you’re having milk." Her mind was already made up but she still asked for my input. Receptionists should simply say to the caller, "Excuse me, I need to put you on hold for a few seconds, thank you" and then do it. Just don't keep us on hold for too long because it makes us cranky. Oh, and remember to use "may" instead of "can" because "may" is grammatically correct. Sorry, pet peeve.

(3.) "Do you want to donate a dollar to…?" It's not your imagination if you feel like you're being asked to donate a dollar to charity every time you buy something. Major charities seem to have largely outsourced their donation drives to big box stores, sadly making "would you like to make a donation to [insert name of charity] today?" the last thing many of us want to hear when we're trying to stock up on toilet paper and cheese. We can end up feeling like publicly shamed selfish jerks for saying "no," even if we donated a few dollars to the same cause last week. In this recession, our budgets are tight and $1 here and $3 there adds up. Charities need to reassess this overbearing money-raising strategy -- or at least find a better way of tracking individual customer donations -- because retail customers are getting tired of being asked at every turn and unenthusiastic store employees are tired of asking.

(4.) "Did you find everything you need?" Speaking of store clerks, this filler question has grown tiresome as well. Besides, the store manager already knows I'm buying three to five items I didn’t plan on buying because they were either on big-time sale or I have my young kids in tow. Kids will spot and beg for every kiddie snack or cereal so cleverly placed at their eye level. And what if I say that no, I didn't find everything I need? Am I willing to hold up the ten customers waiting patiently in line behind me to go get it? No, I'm not willing to do that to the people in line behind me. I'll come back to get it later, when I'll surely be asked if I want to donate again to the same charity to which I just donated. A friendly "And how are you doing today?" or "the weather looks nice" would be so much nicer to hear.

(5.) "May I tell her who's calling? Oh, she’s in a meeting."
Okay, we know what you're really trying to say. He or she is in the office but doesn't want speak to us right now, if ever. When you say, "may I tell her who's calling?" it pretty much implies to us that the person is probably in the office. Then we tell you our name, and after an awkward pause you say, "she’s in a meeting?" or "she's stepped out of the office?" in a questioning tone. We know what's going on, but we play along like she's not there even though she probably is. Simply saying, "Let me put you through to voice mail" would feel less insulting somehow.

There are many other well-worn phrases out there, but this is a start. Feel free to share yours!


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