Things you should never say in a business meeting

Meetings are an important part of running your business, whether they’re with colleagues, clients, suppliers or your boss.

It’s important to be aware of the way you speak and the language you use to ensure you always appear professional: one misguided comment can ruin the mood and portray you in a bad light.

If you’ve just got your foot on the career ladder, your ambition may be to earn respect by having a voice in meetings. However, the way you portray yourself can have the opposite effect if you say the wrong thing.

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Many people may not realise the impact of their choice of words: you might come across as unsure, arrogant, meek and a whole host of other negative adjectives. There are certain phrases you should never say in a business meeting.

Don’t over-think what to say, to the point where none of it makes sense in your head and you end up saying nothing. Just remember the phrases that are an absolute no-no in any meeting.

I don’t have time

If you’re being asked to take on a new project or responsibilities that could further your career, never tell your boss, “I don’t have time,” during the meeting. If you have a genuine reason for not wishing to take on extra work, discuss it privately afterwards with your manager. See if you can make way for the new opportunity by delegating some of your existing responsibilities.

It’s not my job

If the task you’re asked to take on seems below your level of expertise, never pipe up, “It’s not my job!”. The sign of a good manager is someone who leads by example. Giving the impression you feel some tasks are too lowly for you won’t enhance your reputation.

No problem

You may wonder why “no problem” is a bad thing to say in a meeting. First, it sounds too casual and it’s the kind of thing you normally say to a friend who’s asking a favour. When you say it in a meeting, it can seem unprofessional. Secondly, you’re literally saying it’s not a problem to do your own job – and so it shouldn’t be! Instead, when someone asks you to do something, respond positively by saying something like, “It’s a pleasure.”

It’s impossible

This is the height of bad manners, as you’re immediately disregarding a colleague’s opinion with a sweeping statement. It also makes you look incredibly negative. Any idea is preferable to having no ideas at all! If it’s just not feasible, use the idea as a starting point and discuss how to achieve a realistic alternative.

I understand what you’re saying, but…

This means you’re unlikely to have understood anything the speaker has said. It seems like you want to shoot down their idea in flames before anyone has had a chance to discuss it. This phrase is dismissive and can cause disagreements. Without using these words, explain to all delegates how you would do things, without dismissing the original idea as unsuitable, to settle on a mutually satisfactory solution.

With all due respect

This is an oft-heard phrase in the workplace that means exactly the opposite of what you say. In a study in 2019, a massive 46.5% of Brits said they HATED this phrase. It is the most loathed and resented phrase among professionals – and it’s easy to see why! When you start a sentence with this phrase, it means the following words are going to be offensive or insulting. It means you have no respect for the other person’s opinion really and you rather think they’re talking rubbish. If you don’t want to get colleagues’ backs up, avoid this phrase at all costs.

You could have…

Don’t ever point the finger at a colleague in a meeting. These words are finding fault and making you look unprofessional, as if you’re passing the buck to someone else for a problem. If you’re the manager, it’s up to you to manage, so never appear to apportion blame to one of your team. If you think they should have handled things better, it was up to you to take control of a situation without resorting to finger-pointing later.

I’ll try

This is another phrase with a negative slant. Anyone listening will think you don’t sound hopeful if you’re only going to “try”. It sounds as if you might give it a go, but you aren’t going to lose any sleep over it if you don’t succeed. Always replace this phrase with “I will” if you are asked to action something after a meeting.

I think…

The moment you say these words, colleagues will switch off subconsciously. This phrase sounds like you’re indecisive and not really sure what you’re going to say. Any words that instil doubt, such as “think” and “might”, should be replaced with a positive “can”. Instead of saying, “I think this will work,” you should be speaking with confidence, telling colleagues, “I can organise this.”

The phrases and language you choose are as important in every area of business and not just in formal meetings. To be thought of as a competent and confident business professional, who strives to achieve great things, you will need to talk like one.

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