7 Phrases Collaborators Don't Say

We have all said things off the cuff with little or no meaning behind it.  The issue is that people interpret things much differently than we thought they would.  When you are trying to bring different perspectives into any type of discussion, and especially creative problem solving, it is easy to slip into a defensive posture and you wont even know it. 

Verbal slip ups turn into verbal sparring, which in turn creates the inability to actually get any work done because we are focused on the defend and attack process.  Verbal sparring also carries more overarching implications that could derail future efforts to collaborate as well.

We need to have some social cognition to pick up on the language we use when collaborating.  Most of us lack social cognition in the moment – that is, we tend to realize something we said had a negative impact later after someone else has pointed it out to us because we are so focused on what we are going to say next we lose sight of other people.

Collaboration takes focus on both our words and the direction they are headed.  If we spend just an extra moment formulating the right language for collaboration, we will greatly improve our interpersonal connections with our teams.

The following phrases are seven of the worst phrases you can say when you are trying to collaborate with others…

“You could never do…”

Negative people are incredible unappealing – they have scowls, crossed arms and typically think they are better for bringing up why we should not do something.   After all they are there to protect us from our own faults…

Instead say:  “What WE should do is…”

Most people are open to suggestions, especially when working in groups trying to solve a problem.  Adding WE into your statement implies group ownership and collaboration.  Using “should” implies that its just an idea to explore.  We can open up and share more when speaking like this.  More importantly, you will be seen as contributing solutions versus just being negative.

“As I already said…”

Once again, a well meaning comment – in this case referring to something you may have said earlier, yesterday or even months ago.  It creates the impression that you are being critical to their thinking or complaining that you weren’t heard before. 

Instead say:  “You made me think of…”

Give some credit to others!  Even if you said it before, it might not have been heard or processed.  When we give credit to others to making us think differently, it contributes to the air of collaboration within the team and shows your thinking process. 

“Its up to you…” or “If that’s what you want to do…”

Shirking responsibility for outcomes is really easy when you put up a defensive front.  Saying it wasn’t your idea comes in handy when things don’t go well.  However, I job is to make things go well not only for the team, but for the organization as well.  

Instead say:  “Here are some connections for us to think about…”

Prove enthusiastic support and optimism without any implied criticism towards individuals or the ideas.  If you are making connections to the work, you too can take on ownership of the outcomes.  And, your connections will only strengthen the ideas that are being developed.

“I would never do that…”

One of the most negatively poignant statements you could probably make in a collaborative setting.  Saying this is an attempt to position yourself above everyone else in the team.  Collaboration is about team unity.  And team unity isn’t all about agreeing, its about acceptance and helping moving ideas forward.  When you say you would never do something is like saying that you quit on the rest of your team.

Instead say:  “Here’s what I like about the idea…”

Force yourself to find the hidden gems in each idea that the team creates.  It is so easy to identify 100 reasons why something wont work at any given moment.  The hardest part is finding the singular reason why we should move ahead.

That will never work…” or “Bad idea…”

Along with the previous phrase, cutting an idea down before it has had the time to root itself and grow is the quickest way to shortening any businesses life span.  On the surface, every new idea should be something that we haven’t planned for before or even thought about.  New ideas tend to be outside of our normal operating procedures, so yes, you are right it wont work today.

Instead say:  “Here are some areas of concern…”

And we phrase these concerns very specifically using phrases and terms such as help me, how to, what if, etc.  When we phrase our concerns, parts of an idea that we don’t like or see a future issue with like this it opens it up to more thinking.  It also allows us to maintain the intrigue and momentum that the team has when they came up with the original thought.

“We tried that already…”

It is so easy to fall back into our history of failures.  It is easy to point out why something didn’t work years ago.  We tend to hear this from the people who have worked in our company a long time.  They have seen and done it all.  That’s why they are on the team.

Instead say:  “What can we do differently…”

A simple yet profound question to ask.  If we have identified a path to take, we need to take into account what has changed since the last time we tried to implement it.  The marketplace changes at the speed of the next trend.  We need to change along with it.

“I work better alone…”

The introvert and extrovert dilemma has plagued collaboration for decades.  We all get our energy in different ways, some like teams, some like silence and now there are those who are introverted extroverts or extroverted introverts.  We need to remember its all about energy acquisition and thought development by the individual.

Instead say: “I need a few minutes to think about this…”


Find your space and time to process the way you need to in order to bring your best to the team and collaboration efforts.  It is okay to want to step away and its okay for them to want you near them.  Be mindful and honor both sides of the need.  Collaboration is not a 24 hour cycle, but can be done is spurts and moments to help drive forward any project.