11 Offensive Phrases to Avoid in Meetings

11 Offensive Phrases to Avoid in Meetings

Janet Gogo Wellington
Janet Gogo Wellington

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." ~ Mark Twain

Words are powerful.

What we say directly impacts our meeting's outcomes. Despite knowing this, we often get carried away. We don't weigh our words and end up saying rude or offensive phrases that may seem harmless but are not.

Saying the wrong things can be the roadblocks to hitting your objectives, better collaboration, and work relationships.

Most of the time, you're just not aware that a phrase is offensive. So let's talk about that. Here are the most common offensive phrases used in meetings.

11 Offensive Phrases You Shouldn't Say in Meetings

11 Offensive Phrases 

  1. What did you mean by that? 
  2. I'm not responsible for that
  3. It's impossible
  4. Whatever you say
  5. This is pointless
  6. You are on mute
  7. Let's wait a few minutes for everyone to join
  8. No offense, but
  9. Let's just take this one offline
  10. I don't care
  11. I don't have time for this right now

1. "What did you mean by that?"

A lot of things gets lost in communication. It’s not because of language disparity. This can still happen even if every meeting attendee is proficient in a single language.

Most of the time, it’s due to poor communication skills. It could also be that the receiver of the message is not well versed in the subject at hand.

Instead of saying that, you can provide choices: “I just want to clarify what you said. Is it a________ or b__________?”

2. "I'm not responsible for that"

Offensive meeting phrase: I am not responsible for that

A comeback phrase customer-facing professionals fall back on when they are not trained well or work in companies that have compartmentalized processes.

It makes the company look bad and the customer helpless. Instead of saying you are not responsible, tell the customer that you can connect or direct them to the person who can help.

3. "It's impossible"

This is an offensive phrase that conveys a hopeless and pessimistic outlook. And saying such things might even affect your performance and growth in the company. Employers recognize and appreciate folks with a can-do attitude.

A hard no should not always be the answer to a challenge, especially if it is within your area of expertise.

"Let me check on it again" is a better response. State any worries that you have about the task along with that. Be honest about any limitations that you might face.

4. "Whatever you say"

It's tempting to use this in a heated discussion. We've all been there. You just want it to end rather than say more things you'll regret.

It isn't very respectful, nonetheless. Stating how you feel will do you good in this case. You can say, "Can we have a short break? My emotions are affecting my judgment. Let's think this through first."

5. "This is pointless"

Yes, maybe to some. But not to everyone else in the room. This offensive phrase can make the one talking feel like her opinion doesn't matter.

All meeting participants should feel comfortable and confident in participating in the discussion. Ideas flow when folks are.

If you feel that it's completely irrelevant to the meeting agenda, you can say, "What do you think if we do it this way?" or "I see why you would say that, but can we try this instead?"

6. "You are on mute"

A common virtual meeting faux pas. While it's pretty much stating the obvious, this phrase can affect the speaker's self-confidence, especially when multiple meeting participants say it.

In this age of virtual meetings, everyone is expected to understand how essential remote tools work. Even if we know how they work, unintended mishaps can still happen. It can be a simple case of forgetting to unmute the microphone, nothing more.

A quick reminder is all the person needs. "I can't hear what you're saying. Can you please check your mic's settings?"

7. "Let's wait a few minutes for everyone to join"

It shows a lack of respect for those who joined the call on time. Try not to use this offensive phrase as much as possible. While there may be genuine reasons for others to be late, asking the ones present to wait can be offensive.

Instead of using this phrase, you can buy more time by asking participants how they are or what they are working on. These initial five minutes provide you an opportunity to spark their imagination.

8. "No offense, but..."

Most of the time, everything that comes after this preemptive phrase is offensive. It barely softens the blow. It's similar to saying "Not to brag, but."

You might be tempted to say this when someone said the wrong thing. Instead of saying this, you can start with "Here's why I disagree."

9. "Let's just take this one offline"

Doesn't this feel like fight words to you?

While you may mean that you would like to handle the matter later, the receiver can feel that their contribution is not significant enough to be discussed at that time.

A more proper way to say this is, "While this is an important topic, it is outside the scope of this meeting. I'll email you right after this so we can schedule a time to talk."

10. "I don't care"  

The most effective leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence. They know how to control emotions during meetings. And that's important. It stops you from being brash when your plans go off course.

For example, if someone says or does something that doesn't align with the meeting agenda, saying "I don't care" is off-putting. Tt's an offensive phrase that must be avoided at all cost.

Try this instead: "We can't talk about this right now since it's not part of the agenda. But we can come back to this at a different date."

11. "I don't have time for this right now"

Offensive meeting phrase: I am too busy

Meetings, whether high-stake or not, should not take longer than it should. But sometimes, there are folks who are just too eager to voice out their concerns.

If your stress level is already at peak 100%, there is a big chance that you will utter these words.

Take a deep breath, look the person in the eye, and say, "Let's put this on hold for now since we're running out of time here."

Words of Wisdom

To have productive and successful meetings, avoid using offensive phrases that can shut down communication and collaboration.

Instead, watch your words and use more positive and constructive language that creates an environment where everyone feels heard and respected.

It will go a long way in creating a dream team that stays and works together more effectively towards a common goal.

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