7 Dirty IT Words: Don't Say These In The C-Suite - InformationWeek

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2/26/2015
04:46 PM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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7 Dirty IT Words: Don't Say These In The C-Suite

Want to win over the bosses? Wipe these words and phrases from your IT vocabulary.
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(Image: Geralt via Pixabay)

(Image: Geralt via Pixabay)

Are you using dirty words at work?

We're not referring to those dirty words -- you know the ones we mean. (And if you don't, the Internet is a wonderful tutor in foul language.) You (hopefully) don't need to be advised that it's not a great idea to walk around your office barking all manner of profanities, bathroom jokes, and other inappropriate vocabulary.

No, we're talking about a subtler breed of bad words that, if you're not careful, can sink you and your reputation at work -- especially when communicating with upper management. How subtle? How about a word like "just"? It's a mighty fine word in plenty of contexts -- but in the wrong one, it suddenly becomes an excuse-maker -- and a potential cap on your upward mobility. Again, we'll explain further.

Does this stuff really matter? Plenty, especially if you're hoping to move up the organizational chart or, at least, earn a raise at some point. Knowing how to communicate has become increasingly crucial for IT pros -- especially when communicating up the chain of command. Just as you can reap rewards by learning how to speak C-suite, it can also pay to know what not to say, especially when speaking with the highest levels of management. At any level, proper communication is a key for IT pros who want to gain credibility with other areas of the company.

"Proper" communication often comes down to the word level. A lack of self-awareness about how you speak and write -- again, especially with higher-ups -- is the equivalent of sloppy code. Sure, maybe the "bugs" will be relatively minor and no one will notice. But even minor issues tend to stockpile into a larger problem at some point. You can polish your verbal presentation just as you can clean up your code.

We focused here on the quieter words we all tend to use on a regular basis, the ones that can create the wrong image when uttered too frequently or to the wrong audience -- like, say, the bosses. We'll trust that you value your paycheck enough to know not to call your boss or other higher-ups a "bleep-for-brains" or to tell a particularly crude joke at a wildly inappropriate time.

Instead, consider these seven terms and phrases -- and all of their variants, of course -- that we might not even realize we're saying when communicating up the food chain. In a vacuum, they're harmless, even boring. But in the C-suite and similar high-stakes venues, these convey a negative picture: That you don't understand company priorities, that you're not a team player, that you're incapable of solving problems, and even that you're a miserable jerk. Bottom line: You might be suggesting that you're not that good at your job. We're willing to bet you probably are good at your job and, if anything, you deserve more recognition than you're currently getting. (If we're wrong about that -- well, sorry.)

Yeah, your technical skills are what got you hired. Your communication skills will help keep you that way -- and maybe get you a bit more of that overdue recognition. In the bring-your-own-everything era, where people say "disruption" as if it's always a wonderful thing (look it up), IT sometimes suffers from a branding problem. Choosing the right words at the right time can shine a better light on the good work you're doing.

Check out the "dirty words" on the following pages, and let us know if you agree they should be banned. Have you ever said the wrong thing to the bosses? We'd love to hear all about it in the comments section below.

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
3/2/2015 | 8:21:37 AM
Re: Rules for thee but not for me
" That's because if they indulge too much in the nitty gritties and minute details, they'll lose sight of the big picture."

 

... and they will be probably be micro-managing their direct reports...
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 10:41:22 PM
Re: Can't
David, what reputation is there worse to have than being a whiner?! That's one of the worst. Perhaps being the downer is slightly worse.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 10:01:23 PM
Re: Also don't say...
Personally, I take the position that the boss is the boss and that all bosses have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, and most are educable in time; thus, while one may see the need to be politely critical from time to time, gratuitous badmouthing of one's superiors is rarely, if ever, a good idea.  If you think the boss made a bad call, then say so and say why when it seems appropriate; but trash talk is demoralizing and rude, and should never be tolerated.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 10:01:02 PM
Re: Can't
My favorite line is "everyone's plate is full." And you can't argue with that really -- if even the bosses are over worked. Then again, if that doesn't speak to a sick office culture ...
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 9:54:06 PM
Re: Can't
@Broadway, your comment made me think of one of my former bosses. No matter how legitimate someone's concerns were or how much they had on their plate, he would always respond with, "Make it happen." Excuses, legitimate issues, "cant's," and "buts" were thrown out the window and were not taken into consideration. These were not factors for him, which in turn could no longer be a factor for you. He never seemed to see the impossible. I guess that could be considered a good quality, but it was actually frustrating. He didn't see the picture, just the end result and you had to do whatever it took to make it happen.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 9:49:46 PM
Re: Um
@Dave, I agree. I respect someone more when they say "I don't know. I'll get back to you with that," as opposed to someone pretending to know. We need to be okay with not knowing it all and we need to not judge others so harshly for their honesty about not knowing something. It is a strength and not a weakness to admit to not knowing something. A truly confident and secure person can admit to it.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 9:49:21 PM
Candor is a good thing
Our business cultiure has long been caught up in maintaining the illusion of omnipotence, omnicience, and infallibility, but there are no real live human beings who actually have any one of these qualities, so it's not at all logical to pretend to that one does; it is even, in economic terms, inefficient.

So I have long maintained that those who don't know the answer to a question should say so and then commit to finding out the answer (but definitely do your homework before an important meeting).  Likewise, supervisors who do not have the expertise to know have any number of times demanded the impossible from their subordinates; thus it is the duty of any professional worthy of the title when faced with an impossible demand to say so and say why; and if the boss won't listen to reason, then maybe it's time to look for another job anyway (but there might be at least a tiny possibility that what he wants is actually feasible; so be careful).  And there are things employees should say "never" about (anything illegal or immoral); though it's very foolish to assume or state that a particular situation can never occur.

That said, tact and an air of reasoned confidence are important in all work situations, especially when dealing those who do not know you well.

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/28/2015 | 12:05:32 AM
Re: Can't
@Broadway0474- Well, i think if you couch it as prioritizing, it looks like smart business. But I'm sure to some it looks like whining. Personally, I think if a person can't tell the difference it is either because you have a reputation for whining or because they'r lousy at their jobs.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2015 | 11:43:08 PM
Re: Can't
David, wouldn't saying you have too much on your plate already --- what should I take off? --- count as a dirty word? Everybody has too much on their plate. Suck it up and make this happen! Sure, you don't want to be a doormat, but there's a fine line between not being a dormat and not saying no, no?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2015 | 11:38:32 PM
Can't
The interesitng thing about "can't" is that it is almost never true. I've found "We can but we'll go over budget by 20%" is the better answer. Or "We can, but which of these ten other things on my plate should I drop instead."

Usually that shuts a manager up fast.
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