5 Things a PM Should Never Say (And What to Say Instead)

Being a project manager (PM) comes in all shapes and sizes, which means there is rarely a go-to rulebook to live by. (Although there are Project Management Certifications that can get you moving if you’re in a rut.) For the most part, you have to be a student of the craft, ready to learn and change course at a moment’s notice. A lot of it is learning from experience.

One thing you can be sure of is that you are going to do a lot of communicating. Communication is a keystone component of project management positions. You are going to be dealing with employees, contractors, clients, and colleagues on an ongoing basis. That’s why you should always keep in mind some common conversational faux pas…and what you can say to avoid them and still get your message across.

1. “I want to float an idea…”

As a PM, there’s no need to be so modest or timid. Don’t “float” an idea. Command the room, announce your plan and how you intend to get there. Propose a sure-footed, well-thought-out project plan and explains the benefits and risks like someone who is prepared to do more than just “float.” Whenever you pitch an idea, approach it with confidence. Be open to a back-and-forth but don’t doubt yourself before you’ve even taken off.

What you can say instead:

  • “I’ve come up with the risks/rewards scenario for a new idea I want to test.”
  • “I’ve been brainstorming a new direction we could take and I’d love to hear your feedback.”

2. “That’s not my job.”

Don’t get me wrong, the danger of project scope creep is real. It’s important to set boundaries so that your project scope doesn’t get unwieldy. However, “that’s not my job” is something a child says when it’s their sibling’s turn to wash the dishes. When expressing what you will and won’t do, it’s important to speak in affirmatives.

What you can say instead:

  • “I was wondering if you had time to reorganize some priorities together?”
  • “I have the perfect person for this task. Let me introduce you.”

3. “I can’t talk right now.”

Remember what I said about communication in the introduction? It’s a crucial part of your job as a PM; therefore, “not having time to talk” is not a good look. Not only does it make it seem like you’re not making time to listen to your team and/or client’s concerns but it comes across as you believing that your time is more valuable than theirs. Other people’s schedules are just as jam-packed as yours but if they made space in their day to bring something to your attention then it’s worth validating them.

What you can say instead:

  • “This seems really important. Can we schedule a time tomorrow to talk together and give it our full focus?”
  • “I just have to finish this up. Can I come knock on your door in ten?”

4. “We have always done [task] this way.”

“It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, project managers don’t have the luxury of being stuck in their old ways. Innovation is the backbone of project management. Fires spring up constantly and you will have to come up with new ways to deal with them. The old way isn’t always the right way. Reluctance to try new things comes from fear of the unknown but that kind of thinking doesn’t create greatness.

What you can say instead:

  • “We are always looking for new ideas to old problems.”
  • “There are no dumb questions. Feel free to bring new perspectives into any role.”

5. “I don’t like this.”

Ouch. While constructive criticism is important, and can help take a project from good to great, there is something to be said for the “sh*t sandwich” approach. When addressing someone else’s hard work and contribution, being a negative nelly isn’t going to get you far. Everyone knows that a first draft is just that…a draft. Most people are willing to edit and revise. So it’s more important to keep them energetic, happy, and motivated than it is to batter them into submission.

What you can say instead:

  • “I love this part of your presentation so much that this other part doesn’t come across as strong. Is there any way we can elevate it to match?”
  • “What do you think the strengths and weaknesses in this product are right now? I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

Conclusion Now you know what not to say as a project manager. Don’t forget to read up on other Project Management worst practices to watch out for and continue leading the best team that you can.

Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of The Digital Project Manager, one of the fastest growing online resources for digital project managers. I've been in the industry for 15 years at top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS, flash games, banner ads, eCRM and eCommerce sites across automotive, utility, FMCG, and consumer electronics brands.

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