You’d be surprised by the damage a seemingly-innocuous comment can cause.
Words have a lot more power in them than you might think, especially in regards to workplace interactions. A good choice of words moves and motivates coworkers, establishing a friendly, professional atmosphere. A bad choice of words can lead to lasting negative impressions, as well as damage to your coworkers’ self-esteem, which leads to friction and reduced productivity. One would assume that the best course of action would be to simply not be a jerk, but there are certain phrases we say that could be causing damage without us realizing it.
For example, do you have a tendency to preface your opinions with “no offense?” I guarantee that any work-related comments that you preface with “no offense” will almost always offend someone. Saying that doesn’t absolve you of being needlessly harsh or dismissive. Speaking of being dismissive, overly-dismissive, patronizing language is a great way to make all of your coworkers or subordinates immediately hate you. Backhanded compliments like “you’re so articulate for someone like you,” or speaking for someone else who didn’t ask for it by saying “what they’re trying to say is…” just make you seem like a rude know-it-all.
In the event that someone calls you out on this kind of language, you should own up to it. Say you’re sorry and promise to do better (and make sure to actually do it). Don’t say things like “you’re overreacting” or “I didn’t mean it like that.” It doesn’t matter how you meant it, what matters is how they took it. You can clarify your position, but it needs to start with an apology. If you dismiss a coworker’s frustrations, it makes you look uncaring and incompetent, something I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate having pointed out to you.