Regardless of how buttoned up your company’s communication strategy is and how clearly your vision, mission and values have all been defined, there are still some dangerous phrases that occur in a team setting. When they are uttered, they can literally strike fear into the leadership of any company. These are familiar to everyone and yet they continue to play out, many times unchecked. Let’s take a look at each one.

1. “We’ve always done it this way.” Change is at the heart of all healthy, growing companies. At the same time, we can all recognize how difficult change can be. Inevitably, someone, somewhere counters with “We’ve always done it this way. “

This is a clear indication that the reason for the change – the “why” – has not been communicated and/or understood clearly. There’s also a strong chance that they were told to “do it” without any explanation or opportunity to learn why the change is necessary and what the benefit will be.

2. “That’s not my job.” Reporting relationships and organizational hierarchies are vital for maintaining order or making team-based decisions and generally getting things done. But rest assured, no matter how detailed the job descriptions are, some task or function will fall outside the scope of the collective job descriptions. More times than not, someone will recognize this and take the initiative to address it. There will, however, be instances where the deficiency is noticed but the next words spoken are “It’s not my job.”

What is this telling you? If you’re hearing this phrase often enough to take note, a thorough examination is most likely needed to get to the root cause.

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3. “I’m afraid of making a mistake.” Business is highly organized. Systems are developed. Processes created and implemented. Methods support efficiencies, and all of these lead to improved outcomes, defined as “quality” and “productivity.” Many corporate missions include the word “excellence,” and a great deal of attention is paid to getting it right, as it should be.

What happens, though, when this message is interpreted by the employees as intolerance for making a mistake? It’s important for leadership to differentiate between mistakes that result from carelessness and those that come from responsibly trying a new method or approach.

4. “Surely someone already thought of that.” For decades, the debate about quality has been whether to build accountability into each individual job or relegate it to a dedicated team. Regardless of how you structure this responsibility, a lack of initiative to speak up can be very dangerous. The only way to overcome this dilemma is to foster a mindset of open communication throughout your entire process.

5, “Boss, we have a problem.” We are all familiar with Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The system that has always worked suddenly doesn’t work. Or a unique, unprecedented situation presents uncharted challenges. In many cases, we jump to solve the problem only to create one or more “unintended consequences.”

The good news is that the problem is noted and the person or team accountable for where the problem now lives is identified. The next step responsible management or leadership takes is to report it to their supervisor. “There is an issue I need to bring to your attention. We have a problem.” How can this be avoided? Simple. Reward problem ownership and problem solving. Encourage responsibility for taking on a problem and doing the hard work to solve it.

Swift Action

This article is not to suggest that these are the only phrases that can cause serious damage to organizations, but these five, like cats, tend to have multiple lives and continue to plague businesses both large and small. They are strong indicators of a crack in the culture and, if not addressed with a permanent solution, will open the organization up to deeper problems that can seriously impact its future. Swift and sure action should be taken to eliminate these five dangerous phrases from your organization’s vocabulary.

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