The One Phrase We Should Stop Saying to Our Coworkers, And What To Replace It With

phrase avoid work actually

If I'm being completely honest, I use the word "actually" way too often. I figure, what's the harm in telling my friends that it's "actually a better idea to stop at the local taco spot" than to walk five extra blocks for pizza? Or telling a colleague that there's "actually an easier way" to complete a certain task? For years, it's been the kind of phrase that casually slips out of my mouth without a second thought—even when I'm at work. And I never really thought to question this. That is, until now.

Carolyn Kopprasch, Chief of Special Projects at Buffer raised an interesting point on her website about how the word "actually" can put a negative spin on any positive statement, which can come off as judgmental and condescending. She explained, "It almost doesn't matter how good the news is; if it comes after 'actually,' I feel like I was somehow wrong about something."

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Though Kopprasch was speaking specifically to how employees can better communicate with customers, it definitely translates to colleagues who want to foster a healthier work environment. No one wants to feel belittled or disrespected on the job, which is why we should consider eliminating the following phrase when it comes to how we approach our coworkers.

The one phrase to stop saying: “That's actually a good idea.”

Perhaps you've said (or heard) some variation of this phrase in the workplace. "You're actually right." "That's actually brilliant!" "Wait, that's actually not a bad idea." They might seem harmless because they sound like compliments, but by adding the word "actually," these statements come off as backhanded compliments and suggest that someone isn't that bright. The Atlantic writer Jen Doll, who labeled the word "actually" the "worst word on the planet," describes it as "sneaky, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Actually is the word that you use when you're really saying, 'You are wrong, and I am right, and you are at least a little bit of an idiot.'"

She added, "It is a secret criticism, an indirect jab, a correction with a barb. And even when it's being used nicely, it's unnecessary, a waste of space." So in short, when you try to correct a colleague by using "actually," it's belittling to them. Plus, offering a compliment like "That's actually a good idea," doesn't really feel like a genuine compliment. It only implies that you're shocked a certain coworker offered valuable input. And of course, this could hinder any organization's efforts to boost morale and overall performance.

What to say instead: “That's a really good idea.”

It reads differently, doesn't it? Yet all it took was eliminating the word "actually" and focusing on the positive. If a coworker offers a solid idea, respect what they have to contribute without using "actually." If someone needs you to run through the details of how to do something correctly—steer clear of any negativity and offer reassurance instead. This way, you'll be straightforward and show your full support while avoiding a condescending, passive-aggressive tone.

On her site, Kopprasch wrote, "It’s amazing how much brighter my writing (and speaking) gets when I go through and lose the 'actuallies.'"

So, the bottom line? Ditch the "actually" when it comes to giving compliments.

nakeisha campbell bio
Nakeisha Campbell

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...
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