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Five things to stop saying at work right now

We might not always know what to say in certain business situations, but some things must be left unsaid

Illustration of a dialogue balloon saying Just ...
September 18, 2019

“Umm, hey, sorry to bother you, can you please, and correct me if I’m wrong, but can you just let me know if this is what you were looking for? If not, can I pick your brain for some ideas?” 

Does this sound like a confident person? No! However, have we all said something like this when we were nervous or not totally confident? Yes. We’ve all been there. We gather the courage to send that email or have that conversation, but we overlook the nuances of the words we use. In order to present that confident, smart, brilliant person who you are, here are some words you need to stop saying right now.

“Can I pick your brain?”

First of all, gross! Not only is “can I pick your brain” not a great visual, it also masks your true intent. You aren’t looking to “pick someone’s brain” (unless you are a zombie, in which case, way to be direct!). Most likely, you are asking for help and advice. Be confident and be direct instead. Ask, “Can I get your advice on XYZ?” Then add a reason why they are the best person to help you.

“To whom it may concern …”

This phrase screams “I’m too lazy to do research!” You are already being fearless by reaching out to a company where you don’t have a contact, so spend the extra few minutes and find a name to become a contender as well. When in doubt, add “If you are not the correct person, could you please forward this on to them” at the end of your email. Start building a relationship on the right foot by looking up a name.

“Sorry to bother you …”

Starting with an apology undermines your credibility. You have value. Your question or comment is valuable. Get straight to the point and say what you are going to say. Don’t apologize for taking up space or time. You add to the conversation, and there is no need to apologize for that. 

“Correct me if I’m wrong …”

You don’t think you’re wrong, so confidently say what you have to say. Starting a thought or sentence with being unsure does not instill confidence. It may seem like a way to protect another person’s feelings, or to show that you are open to feedback, but in reality, it makes it seem like you don’t know what you are talking about. Don’t worry — if you’re wrong, people will tell you. Most likely, you aren’t wrong, just unsure.

“Just …” 

This simple four-letter word diminishes anything that comes after it. “Just” is similar to an apology and makes it seem that you are coming from a place of insecurity. “Just” has become a qualifier, a way to not overstep some self-imposed boundary. You aren’t “just” asking for something or “just” saying your thoughts, you are contributing.

Choose words that show your brilliance! Removing these five phrases will go a long way in changing how others view you by showing you as a confident and efficient communicator.

Written by Taylor Drake, ’09 BA, who leads marketing for a major litigation support firm in Los Angeles. At age 30, she co-founded Los Angeles-based Bluestocking Society, an online networking community for female professionals. Find out more at This story originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.