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Pan Chasinga
Pan Chasinga

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Words You Shouldn't Use in Your Workplace

How to avoid words that promote praises and punishments and learn to give meaningful feedback and evidence of success to your colleagues.

As a father, I've been diligently studying child psychology. One concept I've found to be very captivating and can be applied broadly to just about any person of any age is the Evidence of Success. Evidence of success is what children (and grown-ups) actually long for to become spiritually fulfilled and overcome self-doubts. It is a technique that will leave your child with a deep sense of identity and security that he/she will be invincible and immune to any external negativities.

As a programmer, I've noticed that in the tech circle many are subconsciously using words that might sound catchy and awesome but lack any depth and detail that are actionable ("awesome" is one). These words are the opposite of the evidence of success and often do more harm than good to those around you and the tech community as a whole.

Here are the words I'd rather avoid using to my child as well as anyone, a short description of what it implies, and an alternative.


"Hey, Jack, you're an absolute ninja!" A manager told Jack, who was sitting in the open with all the other colleagues.

What it implies: The rest of you are ordinaires. You can't possibly be a ninja. Why? Because I (the manager) didn't say how. You just have to be like Jack, which you can't.

Let this sink in: Praises only make a person feel entitled and put other people down.

In this scenario, the manager should have taken time to mention in detail what Jack had done well so not only Jack knows what he should keep up but others can also learn how to become better. Big benefit goes to Jack himself because he now has the confidence of what he's good at, not how he pleases the manager. As far as he knows, he might just have been his manager's favorite, right?

Try this:
"Hey, Jack, thanks for deploying that container last minute super fast. I noticed you have written a script to do that. That is very smart. We all should strive to automate repetitive things we do every day."


"Learn to Become a JavaScript Master," a blog post title says.

What it implies: You are not good enough. It's binary. Either you master it or you suck.

In reality, we don't have to master anything to build something great. We should always be constantly learning. Learning is infinite and dynamic. Mastery implies definite and static.

Try this:
"Learn the Basics of JavaScript to Write a Basic Todo App in a Day".

Well, actually

I picked this up during my time at Recurse Center. It's actually one of the social rules. Here's how it normally runs:

"I'm trying to write concurrent code in Python," said Sarah.
"I've used Tornado before. It's pretty dope. Do you want to learn more?" said Jack.
"Wow, yes!" said Sarah gleefully.
"Well, actually, Python has GIL. GIL is ... so your code, in theory, can never be parallel," interrupted Myra.

What it is: Well, actually is when you are correcting someone on something that isn't core or tangential to the conversation just because you are impatient to show you're superior.

Try this:
"..." (Yes, just resist the urge and be quiet).


Gupta is reviewing Amy's code.

"Why did you do this?" Gupta asked.
"Um, isn't it the way everyone does?" Asked Amy.
"No, normally I'd do this." Gupta went on correcting Amy's code.

What's wrong: A broad use of "why" is dangerous because when used in the context of reviewing or correcting someone, it can sound very condescending, demoralizing and too broad to be useful.

In this case, Amy did not even think her code was wrong. That was the only way she knew, and being asked why her intellectual was being challenged. Take time to be more specific to create a better scope.

Try this:
"I see you're using a ternary expression here. I love ternary expressions, but is there a more readable way here? What do you think?"

Now Gupta is asking Amy for her opinion, not trying to debunk her way of thinking. He's implying that there's no right or wrong. It becomes easier for her to see what he sees and agrees with him without the friction the word brings.


"Don't be late for meetings again," Brian said to an intern.
"Yes, I'm so sorry." Replied the intern.
"What about the last week's meeting you never showed up?" Thought the intern.

What's wrong: If you're a parent, you might have learned that saying "Don't do X" to your kids is just another way of challenging them to do X with absolute passion. Interestingly, humans' brains aren't really wired to take Don't or No word well. They just skip it right to the X part and focus on why they are being banished from it.

Try this:
"We have very few meetings and we try to make them really short. So when you show up late you might miss some very important points that might go unnoticed for a very long time."

Now, Brian is not scrutinizing the intern. He is just stating the fact that is very hard to argue. Remember, saying don't or no to someone doesn't make him stop doing it. It only stops him from doing it in front of you.


Praises and punishments are two sides of the same coin. They both do not carry over any depth and careful elaboration of the granting person. When you praise or reward someone, you only reward him the hints to win you again next time. In the lack of reward, he is likely to stop whatever he does. A reward is also a punishment in disguise. It is another way of saying "if you don't do this, you won't get this reward or praise." Punishments, on the other hand, just break people. If you have picked someone to work with/for you and he/she does a mistake, the only person that deserves to be blamed is you.

Showing evidence of success takes patience and creativity, likely on both ends, but it will do your team one big difference and you will see it in each member's energy and gleaming eyes as they come to work lit up every day.

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Top comments (14)

thatonejakeb profile image
Jacob Baker

I can’t stand the word ‘just’.

“It’s just a quick fix”
“It’s just a small change”

murrayvarey profile image

Oh man, that one makes my blood boil. Particularly if it turns out they were right ...

bbessa profile image
Bernardo Bessa

You might find interesting this one:

thatonejakeb profile image
Jacob Baker

That's brilliant, thanks!

attkinsonjakob profile image
Jakob Attkinson

Things don't always go as planned. Because managers or superiors always ask for "just tell me when exactly", developers found a way to avoid answering that question. Soon means "I don't know, but I hope it's not going to take me the entire day/week".

If someone knew exactly when they wouldn't have told you soon. In my opinion, you should take it as a valid answer instead of pressuring for a more accurate estimation

murrayvarey profile image

One that gets me is: "I agree, but ... "

In other words: "I disagree, but haven't figured out a good way to tell you." Way to take the wind out of someone's sails!

I catch myself saying this sometimes, and always wish I hadn't.

maniflames profile image

The solution to well actually 🤣

vickilanger profile image
Vicki Langer

The best possible response 😂 🤣

pancy profile image
Pan Chasinga

On the flip side, a better response would have been...

"I wanted to do X in Y time, but Z has been blocking."

Many "soon"s had the root causes of not wanting to be open about one own's naivety or not dared to seek help.

harryammon profile image
Harry Ammon

I'm not a fan of the word 'obviously' when explaining something.

I find it can make the recipient feel bad if they did not know what the 'obvious' thing was.

alebiagini profile image
aleBiagini • Edited

Interesting read. Can I have a list of the books you are reading about child psychology?

nickholmesde profile image
Nick Holmes

I'm guessing I should be reigning in those "WTF!"s during code reviews then?

ericschillerdev profile image
Unfrozen Caveman Dev

Concur 100% with this as I've spent a ton of time in my career working with things other people have already created (legacy code, data wrangling, etc.).

vdedodev profile image
Vincent Dedo

I absolutely disagree with everything in this post. Most of the examples here are really twisting words and meaning, just to get a point across? I'm not sure what you wanted to achieve here.