Biblical Advice: 9 Things You Shouldn’t Say at Work
I’m new to my job and learning to navigate the office politics. I get that you can’t talk to a boss disrespectfully, but I can see that there is a lot more to getting along at work than just agreeing with my supervisor or not talking about him behind his back. Do you have some advice on what to say or not say at work?
Wondering about the Words
Your question is one that more of us should meditate on as I have found that reckless words at work do far more damage than most folks ever anticipate, whether you are the boss or employee.
To be successful at work, get ready to be your own personal firefighter, putting out the flames of poor word choices before they harm or even destroy your reputation and career. Here’s why. In James 3, the apostle reflects on the great evil that words can unleash, writing in verses 5 and 6: “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
Here’s my list of things you should NOT say at work and recommendations for what would be better to say:
- To be honest with you…
Everytime I hear someone begin their sentence with this phrase, I wonder why they chose to qualify the statements I am about to hear as “honest”. These words raise concerns as I tend to privately question if they have not been honest in the past or are not intending to be honest in the future. The Bible makes it clear that we are never to lie, to always be completely honest and that our “‘yes’ should be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ should be ‘no’”. It is better to factually state what you have to say, using discretion and discernment of word choice when the subject matter is sensitive. It will help you sleep better at night and give your boss the comfort of knowing you are consistent in speaking honestly.
- That’s not my problem.
Before most of us step into a job position, we’ve had a conversation about what our responsibilities will be. Still, making blanket statements about what you won’t do conveys that you are not a team player and have a non-flexible attitude. When faced with a request that might not be part of your official job description, a better approach is to redirect the questioner to the person who does handle that issue. A good response is “Let me help you get to the right person.” Being helpful when faced with any request is the best attitude at work. Titus 2:7 advises: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”
- But we’ve always done it that way.
Resisting change for no good reason will frustrate any employer or supervisor. The goal of a project or initiative is to benefit the company, not enshrine old patterns or systems. When faced with a change that does not make sense to you, seek first to understand. Ask questions like, “What’s the long-term strategy for this plan? Help me understand why this is better than the system we are using?” In the Bible, we see God using creative people and new approaches when they will be most effective. In Isaiah 43:19 we read, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” You may actually like the change once you understand how things will work and what the expectations are.
- I may be wrong, but…
You were hired because someone thought you were the right person for the job. Don’t undercut yourself by presenting your ideas as a possible mistake. Approach your pitch with confidence. Phrases like “maybe we should try” or “I think” are not as strong as “I believe a good approach is this.” Of course you need to do your homework to get your presentation ready for review, but once the work is done, go for it!
- I hate this company.
I wish I didn’t have to write about this obvious mistake in the workplace, but it is common for employees to complain about their company or their bosses when they have a moment together. But trust me, those words will get back to the powers that be, and those sentiments will multiply, hurting the culture and camaraderie. If you truly hate where you work, go get another job. But remember, the people you are denigrating will be writing your recommendation. When others are talking badly about the company, go get some coffee. Proverbs 10:19 advises restraint, noting, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.”
- That’s impossible.
If your first reaction to a request is certainty that it can’t be done, I hope you have a lot of research to back that up. Embrace the challenge of thinking through a difficult task to see what might be done. And when you make a recommendation after looking into something, be clear about what it might cost and how long it might take to accomplish the goal. When faced with a nearly impossible task, a good response is “Interesting, I’ll look into it,” and then set a reasonable deadline for when you can report back, so you have time to reflect on the challenge. Remember Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
- I don’t have time right now.
Too many people in a workplace present a prickly persona, making interaction with them a chore. “Not now” is a frustrating response, as it leaves a colleague wondering when a project can move forward. You may be in the middle of something important, but rather than shutting down conversation, a better response is to set a time for solving the next problem. Say this, “I promised to finish this first, but how does 3 p.m. (or whatever times works for you) sound?” You convey that you care about your commitments, and you make a plan for the next task. You do have time, but perhaps that time is later. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
- Don’t tell so and so, you didn’t hear it from me…
I am not the first person to write about the painful impact of gossip on reputations, both on those who are torn apart and on those who use words as a weapon. Eventually, if you are the kind of person who destroys people the minute they leave the room, your reputation will also be in ruins as no one can trust you. Many scriptures warn that gossip is a sin that destroys reputation, harmony and unity – things vital for accomplishing goals as a team. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians wrote that he was afraid of that kind of disorder in the church, writing in verse 12:20, “I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” Your own testimony in the workplace as a Christian will suffer if your words tear people down rather than build them up. In James 1:26 we read, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
*This is a qualified no, as sometimes you will have to take a stand. As Christians we must say no to illegal actions, inappropriate relationships in the workplace, temptations to gossip, etc., as discussed above. But the kind of “No” that must be avoided at work is the one in which you refuse to do the work a supervisor gives you – work they have every right to give you. Fueled by today’s entitled thinking, too many people believe they must be consulted on every task and persuaded to do a job assigned to them. But when you take on a position, you accept the reality that someone else has use of some of your time and effort. Titus 3:1-3 instructs us to be respectful to acknowledged authorities, writing: “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
Originally published on Handwriting on the Wall.
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