Do you put your foot in your mouth at work?

LogoDear Ms. Corporate Manners,
One of my co-workers has a golden tongue and always says the right thing. The bosses just love him, but I seem to put my foot in my mouth a lot. Any tips?
Big Mouth in Memphis

Dear Big Mouth,
What you say affects how people perceive you – as a team player or self-seeker, worker or whiner. At least that’s what the book “How to Say It at Work” advises. You need to learn how to communicate clearly and persuasively – even when you have to admit you’ve made a mistake. 

The book had some tips:

The way you speak should convey confidence.  Good phrases include: “best use of resources,” “work out the difficulties,” “do a thorough job,” “more flexibility” and “opens up possibilities.”

The book warns against using words that suggest failure or weakness, such as: final, mistaken, forgot, nervous, foul-up and tired. Other negative phrases are: “can’t do,” “beyond me,” “beyond repair,” “big mistake,” “big trouble,” “dead-end,” “it’ll never work,” “it slipped past me” and “MY BAD.”

Non-verbal communication is important too. In the 1970s, Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that when listeners judge the emotional content of a speech, body language and tone matter 93 percent more than verbal cues. So your mother was right – upright posture, a friendly smile and good eye contact are important.

Some obvious mannerisms to avoid include:

  • Biting your lip or wringing your hands
  • Crossing your arms in front of your chest
  • Yawning
  • Avoiding eye contact

And remember, if you’re wrong, just say, “I’m sorry.” Then quickly follow with how you’ll make things right.

Ms. Corporate Manners

To learn more, read, “How to Say It at Work,” by Jack Griffin (Prentice-Hall, Paramus, NJ).

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

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