Phrases you should avoid using in business meetings

by Dan Byrne on Jan 5, 2023

What should you not say in a meeting

What should you not say in a meeting? 

The question may be frustrating because it suggests an extensive list of things you must avoid. Meanwhile, you’ve probably come across other writing recently encouraging open, honest engagement at business meetings. 

So, what gives? Where’s the balance?

In short, it lies in the difference between the subjects you raise and how you raise them; a list of ‘what not to say’ concerns the latter. In other words, feel free to make your point, but be careful how you do it.

What should I not say in a meeting?

“That won’t work.”

You probably know the reason why this is a no-go. It’s automatically negative, and it breeds conflict

In three words, a suggestion has been cast aside, perhaps with no consideration, and any environment for discussion has been washed away. 

Instead, try “let’s explore that” or something similar. Even if you have doubts about an idea, it is probably worth a closer look.

“That’s not important right now.”

This is especially dangerous when teams or committees come together because, in these cases, everyone has different priorities. 

As they share and update, the last thing you want is to suggest that one of their main goals doesn’t matter.

“That’s not my job.”

  • If you say it in response to a potential new task, you demonstrate that you don’t want to engage with the work or your team. This is dangerous, especially the more senior you are. 
  • If you say it after something goes wrong – i.e. “that wasn’t my job” – you demonstrate carelessness and a willingness to see colleagues fail rather than make any effort to help. 

It’s okay if you simply can’t do a new task because of workload and capacity, but you can communicate that in other ways.

“You should have…”

Often, the urge to say this comes after something goes wrong, but when something goes wrong, do not point fingers.

Get pro-active. Solve the problem first, then have a debrief, during which you can use more neutral language like “it might work better to do X next time”.

“I’ll try.”

This makes for good dialogue in movies but not business meetings. 

“I’ll try” means you still have doubts about what you’re being asked to do. The best way to address these doubts is in a meeting which – guess what – you’re already in!

Don’t be afraid to raise those doubts among your colleagues. In doing so, you’re communicating and allowing others input on how they can be overcome.

“We’ve always done it this way.”

This is not a debate winner, nor is it even a valid point. 

If you think a process or product is a good idea, you should be able to support that with noted merits outweighing drawbacks, not because it’s just easy and familiar. 

Separately, you could often use the same phrase as a gut reaction when someone questions a long-established system. 

If that happens, don’t panic, but don’t let the moment pass. Enquire why your system works this way, and ask if changes might improve it.

“With all due respect.”

Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. 

It’s not because of the phrase itself; it’s because what comes afterwards is likely to be personal or offensive, even if it’s veiled in polite-sounding words. 

Business meetings don’t need “personal” or “offensive”.

The phrase has become so infamously attached to overt negativity that it rarely leads to positive results, if ever. So if you think it’s a good opening to an opinion you’re about to share, with all due respect, it probably isn’t.

“What should we discuss today?”

This red flag means you and your team haven’t done adequate preparation, like agenda setting and minute-taking.

“In my last company…”

Be careful with this one:

  • Often, it can signal arrogance, stubbornness, ego, and an unwillingness to adapt to your new company culture. 
  • Sometimes, though, it may be relevant. Maybe you landed your current role precisely because of your successes in a previous position; perhaps you have good advice to carry forward. Still, remember: your colleagues can only hear this phrase so many times before they tire of it.

Further reading

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