5 Phrases to Eliminate from Your Innovative Workplace

“I didn’t realize that was offensive.” Most people never think about the cliches they use in the workplace – until they experience the trauma. They don’t understand that common phrases can be obstacles to creating the disruptive innovation they desire. 

In an earlier post, we discussed my top 10 most insensitive phrases in the time of trauma. In this post, we examine popular phrases used in business that need to be deleted from our conversation to do the impossible. This isn’t a political correctness post but rather one to remove obstacles to our success. 

Those that follow me appreciate how I connect compassion and communication with disruptive innovation. As an executive coach, consultant, author, and speaker, I work with decision makers (in an organization or in their own careers) to think bigger and reach higher. 


I define communication as “negotiating shared meaning.” In the old top-down model of leadership, we focused on “getting our idea across.” That concept is now antiquated in the sharing economy. Today we connect to collaborate and ultimately create. That means we need to understand what words and phrases destroy our office culture and which one build so we can disrupt the world by doing what others thought impossible. We communicate with others not by focusing just on our speaking but heavily on listening. In our diverse worlds, one of the first things we need to re-examine is the cliches we use.

My focus of study during my doctoral communication program focused on the power of language to create and destroy, to either vilify or legitimize. I’ll spare you the deep theoretical details but will say that language works intricately to divide and separate. Even though a word or phrase might seem meaningless, it can have a deep impact without seeing any reaction. Sometimes the reaction is dramatic and instantaneous while other times it is subtle and gradual. Either way, for those of us serious about creating a disruptive innovation, the language we use is critical to our success. 

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Here are the 5 phrases that show a lack of compassion for those in trauma and provide obstacles to creating disruptive innovation. Remember, we want to connect so we can collaborate and create a valuable disruption. 

1. “Talk them off the Ledge”

Every team experiences moments when someone is concerned about the dire consequences. This phrase creates problems for a few different reasons.

First, it suggests someone is suicidal. I know, that might sound like it is taking the issue too far but stay with me. Whoever uses this language is suggesting that the other person is too extreme in their assessment. Dismissing their concerns is unwise when a team is working toward a disruptive innovation that will add value to many people’s lives. 

Second, it is condescending. It suggests that the person saying it is in control and the one on the ledge is not. That division is caustic to disruptive innovation.

Third, this phrase is terribly insensitive to anyone who has had a friend or family member commit suicide. This may sound far too sensitive and restrict language too much, especially if it is a favorite phrase. But given the epidemic rates of suicide, isn’t it wise to be on the safe side of that argument? Why create a problem?

A better response would be, “What are their concerns?” 

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2. “Jump off the Bridge”

This phrase is often directed toward ourselves when our problems seem to mount. However, it is often said in a jovial way. So what could be wrong with that? After all, we all want to have some fun, right?

The problem is that when a team is working on something that others consider “impossible” it is best to stay positive. Throwing out a casual reference to a very serious and traumatic situation doesn’t seem like the wisest choice of language. Remember, language creates and destroys. There is nothing subtle about “Jumping off the Bridge.”

By the way, did you know that studies have been done about those people who have attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge? Of all that survived, and there have been several, every single person said they regretted their action immediately after their feet left the bridge. That’s why they put up nets. Those jumping really don’t want to end their lives. They simply want the pain to stop and need help to discover how. 

A better response would be, “What do we need to remedy this problem?

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3. “Have a Gun to my Head”

Given the mass shootings in the last twenty years, you can see how this phase would elicit traumatic images that distract an innovative team. Everyone will feel threatened at one time or another but it is nothing like a hostage situation where you are the hostage with a gun to your head. 

For those who still might think I’m being oversensitive, ask someone who has served in Afghanistan, Iraq or Vietnam. Ask them if going to battle in the office or in a sporting event equates with the heat of combat. “Not even close” is a common answer. Often they don’t need to say a word, the look they give says it all. 

Wise leaders challenge themselves to build a sense of camaraderie with positive metaphors. Instead of a horrific situation, choose a sports example.

A better response would be, “There are 5 seconds on the clock and we are down by 2. What’s our plan?” 

4. “I’m Just Going to Shoot Them All.” 

This should scare everyone. We don’t even joke about being the shooter.  

Whether literal or a metaphor, we simply cannot use this language if we are seeking to build a cohesive team. After all, who would trust someone that uses this language?

Yes, we all feel frustrated when others don’t do what was promised. Disruptive Innovation stretches our thinking and goals far beyond where most people are right now. That significant difference will frustrate us. But if we need to work with them we have to adjust our thinking.

A much better response would be, “How can we work with them?”

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5. “Get Over It”

When we have objections or have experienced trauma, it inconveniences others. So they want us to “snap out of it” or “get over it.” 

Disruptive Innovation demands everyone perform at their best. Unfortunately, trauma creates obstacles. It blocks our success by disabling our strategy and disconnects us from the old normal. No matter how many times someone tells us to “Get over it” we cannot. Often the only way to move on is to work through the dramatic shift. That takes understanding, compassion and time.

The phrase “Get over it” is a lazy response because it is an order given that cannot be obeyed. (By now you know how much I disagree with the obedience model of leadership.) 

Instead, a better response is, “How can I help?” 

Language can connect instead of divide. Think Bigger and Reach Higher by re-examining the phrases you use with your team. 

(c) 2019 Murfield International, Inc.



Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

I work with leaders and organizations think bigger and reach higher to find breakthrough success. This is a process that I can help you learn. Begin the process today by contacting me. 

Start learning how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Watch for our new book, “Leading with the Power of Compassion” when it is released in June. 

ROI of Compassion 2018

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