What Not to Say …

10 01 2014

what not to say

What Not to Say About Someone’s Appearance
Don’t say: “You look tired.”
Why: It implies she doesn’t look good.
Instead say: “Is everything OK?” We often blurt the “tired” comment when we get the sense that the other person feels out of sorts. So just ask.

Don’t say: “Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight!”
Why: To a newly trim person, it might give the impression that she used to look unattractive.
Instead say: “You look fantastic.” And leave it at that. If you’re curious about how she got so svelte, add, “What’s your secret?”

Don’t say: “You look good for your age.”
Why: Anything with a caveat like this is rude. It’s saying, “You look great―compared with other old people. It’s amazing you have all your own teeth.”
Instead say: “You look great.”

Don’t say: “I could never wear that.”
Why: It can be misunderstood as a criticism. (“I could never wear that because it’s so ugly.”)
Instead say: “You look so good in skinny jeans.” If you slip, say something like “I could never wear that…because I wasn’t blessed with your long legs.”
What Not to Say in the Workplace
Don’t say: “That’s not my job.”
Why: If your superior asks you to do something, it is your job.
Instead say: “I’m not sure that should be my priority right now.” Then have a conversation with your boss about your responsibilities.

Don’t say: “This might sound stupid, but…”
Why: Never undermine your ideas by prefacing your remarks with wishy-washy language.
Instead say: What’s on your mind. It reinforces your credibility to present your ideas with confidence.

Don’t say: “I don’t have time to talk to you.”
Why: It’s plain rude, in person or on the phone.
Instead say: “I’m just finishing something up right now. Can I come by when I’m done?” Graciously explain why you can’t talk now, and suggest catching up at an appointed time later. Let phone calls go to voice mail until you can give callers your undivided attention.
What Not to Say During a Job Interview
Don’t say: “My current boss is horrendous.”
Why: It’s unprofessional. Your interviewer might wonder when you’d start bad-mouthing her. For all you know, she and your current boss are old pals.
Instead say: “I’m ready for a new challenge” or a similarly positive remark.

Don’t say: “Do you think I’d fit in here?”
Why: You’re the interviewee, not the interviewer.
Instead say: “What do you enjoy about working here?” By all means ask questions, but prepare ones that demonstrate your genuine interest in the company.

Don’t say: “What are the hours like?” or “What’s the vacation policy?”
Why: You want to be seen as someone who focuses on getting the job done.
Instead say: “What’s the day-to-day like here?” Then, if you’ve really jumped through every hoop and time off still hasn’t been mentioned, say, “Can you tell me about the compensation and benefits package?”
Easy Ways to Exit Awkward Situations
A Story Repeater
Your father-in-law is telling you that story about foiling the pickpocket in Moscow―for the fifth time. Do you let him know you’ve heard it before and can tell it better than he does? “If the story is longer than a minute and the two of you are alone, do interrupt to tell him that you’ve heard―and enjoyed―that story once before,” says Margaret Shepherd, a coauthor of The Art of Civilized Conversation. Try: “You had everyone in stitches when you told that story last Christmas.” No need to add that you’ve heard the story for the last four Christmases. “Segue to a related topic,” suggests Shepherd, and if possible, draw in another person to freshen up the conversation.

With older people whose memory may be slipping or when you’re in a group, though, it can be cruel to interrupt, says author Letitia Baldrige: “Patiently listen and wait for a chance to change the subject. If they’re thrilled to be telling the story, dismissing them too suddenly is like smooshing an ant.”
Easy Ways to Exit Awkward Situations
A Sermon
You may escape faster―and avoid future rants―if you take a moment to hear the person out, says conversation expert Margaret Shepherd: “Don’t debunk their beliefs, tease, ignore, argue, scoff, or demean. They’ll just try harder to convince you.” Let the person spew for a couple of minutes before you introduce a neutral subject or make your exit.

Offensive rants―racist, misogynist, or obscene―are an exception. In those cases, cut the speaker off as soon as possible with a simple “Excuse me―I’ve got to go.” If the sermon takes place at work and other people are present, enlist their help. “They probably don’t want to hear it either,” says career columnist Anne Fisher. After listening to the lecturer for a minute or two, say, “It’s interesting you feel so strongly about that, Joe. Hey, Sally, what did you think about that meeting last week?” Unless the person “is a total bonehead,” says Fisher, “he or she will take the hint.”
Easy Ways to Exit Awkward Situations
A Run-in With a Long-Lost “Pal”
If you barely have enough time for the friends you have now, be wary of taking on someone you haven’t missed that much and nip this encounter in the bud―nicely, of course. During the initial meeting, show some enthusiasm―”Great to see you!”―but don’t overdo it. “Don’t even vaguely suggest having lunch if your gut feeling is ‘Get me out of here,'” says conversation expert Margaret Shepherd.

If the person insists on a “date” and keeps calling or e-mailing to follow up, Shepherd suggests spelling out the terms you can live with: location (close to you), duration (short), purpose (strictly personal, or is there a business motive?). Also, be direct about anything you don’t want to discuss. (“I’d love to catch up on what you’re doing, but if we’re going to talk about that horrible personnel manager one more time, let’s call it off.”) Meet with the person once, and keep in mind that you don’t have to see him or her again if your opinion hasn’t changed.
What to Say in Awkward Social Situations
By Katie McElveen
You’re stuck in the elevator with the CEO or at a game with ex–in-laws. Now what?
Waiting in line at the deli, you’re greeted by someone whose name escapes you.
“I’ve found that it’s best simply to smile back and let them speak,” says Sirio Maccioni, owner of the famous New York City restaurant Le Cirque. “Never ask who they are. You’ll eventually figure it out from what they’re saying or by asking someone else once they’ve walked away.”

Another option: If the mystery woman didn’t greet you by name, reintroduce yourself. (“Oh, hi! I know I know you. I’m ―. Remind me how we met.”) “She’ll probably get the hint and tell you her name,” says Debra Benton, the author of CEO Material (McGraw-Hill, $25, amazon.com).

Of course, it helps to have backup. If you’re with, say, your spouse, you can introduce him by name and hope the semi-stranger responds in kind. It’s even better if your wingman (or child) is trained. “My family members know that if I don’t introduce them to someone, I’ve blanked on the person’s name and they need to step in,” says Susan Fitter Sloane, the founder of Global Matters, an international etiquette-consulting business based in Middleburg, Virginia.

Expert: Clinton Kelly, cohost of the TLC show, What Not to Wear.


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