Four Fantastic Phrases at work

Four Fantastic Phrases

Let’s say you agree with me, that being happy at work is really important. That coming to work day after day, year after year, simply for the paycheck is just not enough. Hey, we spend most of our waking hours at work, so we might as well enjoy it, right?

Assuming that: What can you do to be happy at work? Specifically, what can you do right here and right now? Something simple, easy and fun, that will make a positive difference for you and your co-workers.

If that’s where you’re at, there are Four Fantastic Phrases you should know. Four simple things to say that make work a lot more fun. Four phrases whose absence is guaranteed to make work absolutely miserable.

Here they are:

1: “Thank you”

It’s so simple: People are constantly helping each other out at work and doing stuff for co-workers, and a simple “thank you” can really make a difference.

Take it a step further and praise people while you’re at it. Remember that you can praise people both for what they do and for who they are. As in “Thanks for getting that report to me a day early” or “I really like working with you because you’re so dependable” respectively. Both are good!

Praise and thank-you’s take no time and cost no money, but really brighten people’s day.

2: “I’m sorry”

Let’s face it, we all screw up once in a while. When you do, don’t hesitate to apologize. In fact, the sooner you apologize, the easier it is.

Some people think apologizing is a sign of weakness, but in reality it shows that you take responsibility for your actions and it makes it easier to move on after making an error. It also shows that you learn from your mistakes, provided, of course, that you don’t keep making the same mistake over and over.

Most of the time, a mistake is not your fault alone, but you can always take responsilibity for the part that is your fault and apologize for that. When it’s both your fault and somebody else’s fault, apologize first, instead of waiting for the other guy to do it. He may be waiting for you too, you know :o)

3: “Help”

Ask for help when you need it. Many people actually like being asked, since it makes them feel appreciated and needed, so there’s a chance to make somebody happy at work right there.

Also: Offer your help, even when not asked. Some people feel too busy to offer their help, but when we all help each other, we each become more efficient and get more work done. When everybody’s thinking “I really don’t have time to help others” everybody gets less work done, and the statement becomes self-fullfilling.

4: “Yes, and…”

A co-worker comes to you with a new idea. “Let’s try a new approach on the Hansen project. Why don’t we [insert new idea here]?” Here are some potential responses:

  • “No, that’ll never work”
  • “Yes that sounds interesting, but we don’t have time for that”
  • “Yes that sounds interesting, and I’d like to hear more”

No’s and yes-but’s discourage people. It’s a sign that you’re not really open to new ideas. Yes-and means you’re willing to listen and consider new ideas in depth. People love being listened to.

NB: Yes-and is not about saying yes to everything. If you do that, you’ll never survive :o) Yes-and is about being open to other people’s suggestion instead of immediately rejecting them.

Four Fantastic Phrases


Imagine a workplace where people:

  • Constantly thank and praise each other
  • Apologize freely when they make mistakes
  • Easily offer and ask for help
  • Are always open to each other’s ideas

That would have to be a nice place to work. On the other hand: Imagine a company where people rarely or never use those four phrases. Scary thought, huh?

Here’s the deal: Each of the four phrases is contagious. The best way to spread the virus is to use them yourself. The more you thank others, the easier it will be for them to thank you. The more you admit your errors, the more your co-workers can do it too. Etc…

And start now. Find a co-worker and praise her. Have you made a mistake recently? Go apologize right now. Are you stuck on some task? Go ask for help. Does one of your colleagues look stressed? Go offer him your help.

Anybody can use these phrases, employees, executives, middle managers, techies, receptionists, janitors, office workers, everyone. I will say this though: Coming from managers, they have an even stronger impact. But that’s no excuse for the rest of us not to use them, untill management does :o) Remember: Something happens when you do something. Not before.

Will it make a big difference? Not immediately. But it gets the ball rolling and makes you and others a little happier at work every day.

21 thoughts on “Four Fantastic Phrases at work”

  1. I was raised in a family where politeness is the most important thing, so generally I do all of these BUT I have been trained throughout my work not to say “I’m sorry.” Every time I have said this I have been met with “I don’t want to hear excuses” or “Sorry won’t cut it” or even “Don’t apologize to me, it’s your future at stake here.” Granted I have never been in a managerial position, and I think that is where “sorry” can make the largest impact, but in my experiances, sorry just tends to feed the flame of an angy manager. Instead I try to say how I will correct the mistake, with a timeline, showing that I am on top of things…not as friendly but much safer.

  2. I think I see what you’re saying Nik. They’re responding to an honest “I’m sorry” as if it’s an attempt to avoid taking responsibility – as if it’s simply an excuse.

    Frankly, that’s horrible.

    I think you’ve hit on precisely the right work-around, by offering solutions instead of apologies. But I can’t help thinking that offering an apology AND a solutiion would be even better . vif it would be accepted in the rigt spirit, of course

    What happens when your managers make mistakes? Do *they* apologize?

    I think what you’re saying underlines my point, since it seems that you would be a little happier at work, if your company accepted an honest apology. Did I get that right?

  3. Yeah that sounds about right =) As for managers apologizing, they do when they forget a meeting etc, but I have had situations where they make mistakes that cost money and it’s my fault for not catching it. Such is the life of a graduate student.

  4. So the next time a manager says “I’m sorry I’m late” you can always return a snappy “Sorry doesn’t cut it, you know.” :o)

    Or maybe not…

  5. “What happens when your managers make mistakes? Do *they* apologize?”

    Managers make mistakes? Not as far as they will admit to at my company…

  6. I see the point, and to some point i definately agree, however I’m also afriad that the words themselves won’t do it alone. The mere power those strong words hold can so easily be inflated by “overuse”.
    Take excuses for one:
    when does an excuse help? what does an excuse have to offer? Maybe what helps is not the excuse itself, but the suffering it gives the person who has to make the excuse. That’s why you must “say it like you mean it”. You have to put feelings in it. The one receiving the excuse must feel that you had a hard time giving the excuse.

    And what if you don’t feel like it, when you have to say “I’m sorry”? You start feeling fake.

    I feel pretty cynical writing this, and it is not that I am not into apologies or politeness, I just don’t think this alone leads to happiness.
    of course I’m also inspired by what I read, and since the last book I read was “Faking it” by William Ian Miller, so yeah, well… really interesting book though!

  7. Mathias: Good points. I’d say that if you’re not sorry, don’t say you are. However, when you know for a fact that you’ve screwed up, it’s usually better to apologize.

    Apologies alone can make people a little happier because it makes it easier to move on when someone has erred. Apologies alone do not create a happy work environment, but I can almost guarantee, that an apology-free work place will be an unhappy one too.

  8. Reading these comments, it sounds like thoes of us who do practice the four fantastic phrases are a rarity. I have an idea. Lets not change our attitudes because our “Managers” don’t do or say something. By doing that we never have to be leaders ourselves and can just follow like sheep. Step up, take the responsibility, make your Manager look good. You never know who is observing your behavior. By taking ownership you might just be seeing your “old” manager trying to catch up to you.

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  10. I have had conflict , in the past 3 environments and have a bad habit of reacting or not reacting. Iron fist emails fly in and i react emotionally!! any advice as i am loosing credibility

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