Teamwork Undermined: Avoiding 5 Phrases That Hinder Collaboration

If you want better collaboration, eliminate these phrases from your team communication.

You didn’t mean to tick them off, but here you are. Your words backfiring like a faulty engine, and now a cloud of awkwardness fills the room. You know collaboration matters and you want to be a team player. So what went wrong?

5 Phrases to Avoid if You Want Better Collaboration on Your Team

Let’s talk about some of the most common phrases that sabotage collaboration, why they’re so annoying, and what to do instead.

1. Let’s Agree to Disagree

In the realm of collaboration, “Let’s Agree to Disagree” is basically your team’s attempt at taking a shortcut around a gnarly problem—except this shortcut leads straight into a brick wall painted like a tunnel à la Wile E. Coyote. You’re not solving anything. What you’re really saying is, “I value the absence of conflict more than I value arriving at a shared solution.”

Sure, it momentarily saves face, avoids immediate friction, and allows everyone to sidestep the awkwardness—but it also bookmarks that problem for a sequel. Now you’ve got an unresolved issue lurking in the background like an unopened email forever marked as ‘important’ but never read.

Instead of closing the door on discussion, why not keep it ajar for more ideas, refinements, and maybe—just maybe—finding a path to team unity that doesn’t involve mutual evasion tactics?

If you’re looking for some additional confidence and conversation starters see, Let’s Talk About It: How to Start the Conversation Everyone Wants to Avoid.

And a few of our Powerful Phrases G.O.A.T.s work great here too.  For example:

“I care about _____ (you, this team, this project) and I’m confident we can find a solution that we can all work with.” or “Let’s start with what we agree on.”

2. It’s Too Late to Change Course Now

This phrase acts like quicksand for team progress, promoting a fixed and inflexible approach that could stifle innovation and adaptability. By saying it’s too late to change course, the team shuts down opportunities to adapt to new circumstances or pivot based on fresh insights. It can trap the team in a “sunk cost fallacy,” escalating commitments to failing or suboptimal projects. The phrase discourages reevaluation and course correction, which are often necessary for fast-paced, ever-changing landscapes.

Curiosity powerful phrases work great here.

“I know we’ve already invested a lot here, and changing course would be rough. But I’m curious about what you’re thinking. Can you tell me more?”

See Also: How to Not Be Perceived as Negative at Work.

3. I’ve Done My Part, The Rest Is Up to You

This phrase sounds like a benign statement of task completion, but its impact is anything but. It subtly erodes the sense of collective ownership and accountability that are vital for effective teamwork. By declaring that one has “done their part,” it implies a disinterest in the project’s broader success and fosters a culture of siloed responsibilities. This can be detrimental to team morale and unity, as it signals a lack of engagement with the project’s overall objectives. Moreover, it inhibits cross-functional collaboration and skill-sharing, ultimately limiting the team’s versatility and adaptability.

Instead try, “What can I do to be helpful here?”

4. That’s a Terrible Idea

You’re not Simon Cowell judging amateur karaoke, and even if you were, every idea has some merit. In an era of disruptions and paradigm shifts, the ‘terrible’ idea you scoff at could well be the next big thing. Instead of shutting down your colleagues, respond with regard, with gratitude, information, and an invitation to continue contribution.

For more on responding well and getting more remarkable ideas, you might want to take a peek at Karin’s popular TEDx talk, The Secret to Getting Remarkable Ideas You Can Actually Use. 

5. We don’t have time for this

Of course, it might be true. You might not have time to talk about their idea or suggestion right now. And, if you want better collaboration, consider how you can keep the conversation on track while being respectful of what your teammates want to say.

Instead, you might try a few of these phrases for better collaboration.

“This is an important topic; let’s schedule a dedicated meeting to discuss it.”

“I understand this is a key issue. Can you summarize it in a few points, and then we’ll decide on the best time to dig deeper?”

“Let’s identify the most immediate priorities for today’s meeting, and make sure we allocate time for this in the near future.”

This one is a proactive approach that involves the team in prioritizing tasks, including the issue brought up, for future discussions.

In conclusion, the next time you find these phrases slipping off the tip of your tongue, pause. Replace them with phrases that promote an atmosphere of innovation, openness, and collaboration. It’s not just about keeping up with the buzzwords; it’s about fostering a culture where everyone’s a buzz-worthy contributor.

Related: Are You Feeling Invisible? Here's What to Say When You Feel Ignored or Overlooked