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5 dangerous words
kill team productivity:

Have you ever been in a meeting or talking to a friend when all of a sudden you just shut down? Your energy for the conversation is drained. You go from being engaged to focusing on a way to get out of the conversation. Everyone has experienced this at some time or another.

My favorite example is the popular brainstorming session. You have an idea and you are excited to share it, and then it happens. Someone in the room says “But, the problem is… ” Bam. Collaboration killed. Productivity pummeled.

But is just one of several words that kill collaboration, creativity, and productivity. Here is my Top 5 list of words that kill productivity.

1. BUT

This word negates everything said beforehand. “Great idea, but….” Whatever follows doesn’t matter. You were just told it was NOT a great idea. Your heart sinks, your brain shuts down. “Why bother?” is most likely what replaces your enthusiasm and great idea. Read More

2. TRY

Yoda said it best. “Do or do not… there is no try.” Try is the ultimate scapegoat of accountability and personal responsibility. As soon as we say try, we give ourselves an out. Read More


According to the Oxford American Dictionary, should is used to indicate obligation or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions. It’s the latter part of that definition that we internalize, and it immediately blocks motivation. Read More


Since I’m quoting Yoda, let’s look at the dark side of words. This next word is rooted in fear, and we all know fear leads to the dark side. We need to make our numbers, we need to get the product out the door, we need… Need creates fear and a sense of scarcity or inability.

5. NOT

Not is a little different animal in this list of 5 words as it works more subconsciously. Notis a word we often don’t hear and process. Our brains focus on all the other words in the sentence and we end up doing exactly what we were intending to avoid. Just think of the last time you said to yourself, “Do not forget…” What happened? Nine out of ten times, it’s forgotten.

In this blog series, I’ll explore each word in more detail, providing tips and techniques for how to avoid using these insidious words, when it is appropriate to use them, and what to do when they inevitably slip back into your team’s vocabulary. Until then, take your first collaboration challenge.


For the two next weeks, notice your reactions to these five words. Take one meeting/interaction a day and listen for how people use but, try, should, need, and not. Notice the impact it has on the conversation or flow of the meeting. At this point, just observe and take note. You can even make a game of it. I’d love to hear how it is going—please share your experience or ask questions by leaving a comment below.

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