“Professional is not a label you give yourself. It’s a description you hope others will apply to you.” —DAVID MAISTER, FORMER HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

Speaking face-to-face with customers, your boss, or any other person you work with can be tricky, especially when dealing with problems or difficult situations. 

Your choice of words and phrases can quickly undermine your credibility and professionalism. Don’t give anyone an excuse to doubt you.

Here are a few words that should be stricken from your vocabulary—at least at the office.


1- I don’t know

When someone asks you a question, and you don’t know the answer, never say “I don’t know” —even though this is the truth.

Saying “I don’t know” in the workplace —especially to a customer—sounds unprofessional, even slightly rude.

Try saying: 

“I’m not sure, but I can find out.” 

“I’ll find out for you.”

“Let me come back to you on that.”


2- I will try

When someone asks you if something can be done at a specific time, don’t use the phrase “I’ll try.”

In English, if you use the verb ‘try,’ you’re not committing to anything. The person asking you has asked a specific yes/no question: ”Can you get it done by this time?”

So you need to give a clear-cut answer.

You can sound much more professional simply by saying:

“I can get it done by 11 am.”


But what if you can’t get it done by 11 am?

You can say:

“I don’t think I can manage it by 11, but I can have it done by 2 pm.”

“I don’t think I can manage it by 11, but I can have it done by 2.”

“I don’t think I can manage it by Wednesday, but I can definitely have it done by Thursday. Would that be okay?”


3- What?

When somebody asks you a question but you didn’t quite hear it, or maybe you didn’t understand it, never say “what.”

You can sound much more professional by saying:

“I’m sorry, I missed that.”

I’m sorry, I missed that. Could you repeat it, please?”

“Sorry, would you mind just repeating that?”

“Sorry, would you mind just repeating that for me?”


4- I’m really busy today

When you’re keeping somebody waiting, what should you do?

Maybe you’re busy with another customer, on a phone call, or perhaps you need to go to the toilet, and you’ve got to leave quickly.

There are a couple of phrases that you can use to sound professional and keep the person who’s waiting happily.

“I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting; I’ll be right there.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting; I’ll be there with you in just a minute.”

These expressions just let them know that you’re there and that you won’t be long until you give them your full attention. 


5- Okey… Yes… Mmmm

You will need to deal with this situation when your boss or a customer is angry or disappointed about something —even if it’s not your fault. So before you freeze up and just say “okay” or “yes,” just remember, all you need to say is “I understand.”

With these specific words, you can make the situation better for just a moment. You’ll help the other person to see that you’re listening and show them that you care about helping them, and of course, you need to offer something to help them with the situation. 

Try saying: 

“I understand. Let’s see what we can do.”

“I’m sorry, I understand. Let’s see what we can do about this.”

“I understand you’ve come all this way, and it’s not ready. Let’s see what we can do.”


6- Literally

This word has been ruined by overuse. Unless you are not exaggerating, strike “literally” from your vocabulary. Most people use it when exaggerating. If you don’t know what you’re trying to convey, you’re misusing it. Better not to use it at all.


7- You know

This is a lazy bit of conversational filler. The person you are talking to doesn’t know what you mean. Try reading their cues to see which is what. If they know, stop talking; you’ve already made your point. If they don’t, try to explain what you mean.



📌Differently: in a way that is not the same as another or before.


📌Backhanded: indirect; ambiguous or insincere.


📌Genuinely: in a truthful way.


📌Disappointed: (of a person) sad or displeased because someone or something has failed to fulfill one’s hopes or expectations.


📌Irony: the expression of one’s meaning by using language that usually signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.


📌Call in: asked to do something.

“My boss called me in.”


📌Get back: replay

“I will need to get back to you on that.”


📌Hot and bothered: angrily, upset.


📌Be on pins and needles: to be nervously waiting to find out what will happen.

Related Articles:

📌5 tips for communicating effectively with customers https://www.englishpriority.com/5-tips-to-communicate-effectively-with-customers-2


📌Expressions to Help You Sound More Polite in English https://www.englishpriority.com/expressions-to-sound-more-polite/


📌How to Write Professional Emails https://www.englishpriority.com/how-to-write-professional-emails/

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