how to communicate at work and what you should never say in front of the boss

What you say at work, and how you say it, will make or break you. Communication is like 89.2% of how successful you’ll be in your job (the other 10.8% is brains). While I have a slight Southern drawl, I keep it in check at the office. I make a conscious effort to be direct and professional in how I interact with others. I have to enunciate and remember all the “-ings” and “-ers” during meetings and presentations “The client ain’t gonna approve us doin’ it like that.” (I’ve heard those exact words in a meeting before, no lie). Accents are inevitable, and there really is nothing cuter than a Tennessee twang, but I’m not trying to be cute at work. If you want to be perceived as incompetent, go ahead and say “thanks, ya’ll” on your next conference call with a client in Europe.

But today’s post is not about accents. Your dialect won’t hurt you quite as much as inappropriate slang spoken in a professional setting. I once was responsible for leading a meeting in my manager’s absence. My department was introducing a new performance management tool, and I’d spent months working on this project. I was so excited to implement, but during the meeting, the topic was derailed by a VP and the discussion did not go as planned. Later, when my manager asked for an update, I told him the meeting was a “hot mess.” In our next one-on-one, we talked through ways to lead effective meetings. Before I left his office, he told me there was something I needed to stop saying. He told me I have to stop saying the phrase “hot mess.” Um, are you freakin’ kidding me right now? Who cares if I mutter this common term that is used by, like, the entire universe to describe something that totally sucks? He said he didn’t understand the meaning, that he doesn’t use the term (because you’re old, dude) and that it sounded like a giant grease fire. He then told me he wouldn’t want me to say this in front of our CEO (his boss). Well, no duh. I wouldn’t because I’m not an idiot, but I guess he didn’t trust me enough not to let it slip. I never said “hot mess” at work again.

At the time, I was super offended/embarrassed, but in hindsight, my manager was right. Such words can reveal your age, experience, intelligence, and level of professionalism. Even if you’re the smartest person in the room, no one will believe it if you say “totes” or “legit.” I’ll  talk a lot of trash on here, but only because I’m trying to be real with you, doll (and because it’s the internet); you’ll never catch me swearing at the office. Here’s a compilation of other slang/terms of endearment I won’t speak at work (and neither will you, right?):

Totes, Def, For Sure (Valley Girl accent), Fosho (urban accent), For Serious, For Real, Hella, Helluva, LOL, OMG, Stop (used in lieu of OMG), the actual “Oh My God,” I can’t, I can’t even, I’m dead (used in lieu of I can’t even), Yaass, Awesome!, You rock?, You’re tha best!, Wait, what? (Basically don’t talk like a white girl gushing over gossip and pinto with her friends). Dude, Bro, Buddy, Bud, Man, Broman, Brother, Brotha, Homie, Homeslice, Girl, Girlfriend, Sister, Sista, Doll, Babe, Hunny, Dear, Sweetie, Ya’ll, etc. You get the point. If you need to address someone, use their name. Crazy, right?

I’m cringing as I share this last tid-bit because, as mentioned above, I’m Southern, dahlin.’ I was forced to attend cotillion at the country club (against my will, but totally respect it now) and got a good ole’ fashion whippin’ if I didn’t say, “yes mam.” At work, you’ve got to block out these upbringin’s. In one of my first jobs, I said “yes mam” on a call to a client. The client was so offended by this that she called my boss to complain afterwards (she was a Yankee; bless her heart). My boss then took me to coffee to “chat” and asked me not to refer to people as “mam” or “sir.” I guess it makes them feel old. In a global economy, our Southern charm doesn’t always fly. A firm, “yes” or “no” is what most people are looking for in business. And if you don’t know the answer, don’t say you don’t know. Instead, you say “let me confirm that.” The other person will have more confidence in your ability to deliver the requested information. “I totes just have no earthly idea, but hunny, let me ask someone over in Accountin’, and I’ll let ya know, okay dear?” Your colleague or client is now freaking out that this deal is dunzo (don’t say “dunzo”).

Use standard American English, and rock on, hot messes (don’t say “rock on”).


A former hot mess bringing you no-nonsense career advice. I’ve been hired, fired, demoted, and disrespected; and it was entirely my fault. I’ve made every possible professional mistake and want you to learn from my screw ups, so you can have the career of your freakin’ dreams.

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