Cool to Say Cool?
Question: I work on a large team in a creative field. I met with a colleague recently and she told me we had to get some work ready by November. I was taking notes and said, "Ok, cool" as a habit as she was speaking. She said, "It's not cool." I know she was talking about the deadline, but I got the impression she was annoyed about me using the word. Is it inappropriate to say "cool" at work?
Answer: Similar to "great" and my personal pet peeve, "no worries," "cool" is something we say without really thinking about it. Let's take a moment to do so.
"Cool" signifies to the speaker that you understand the words coming out of his or her mouth. It confirms that you take no issue with what you've heard and that you have nothing to add or detract. It indicates, in a single word, that the information shared has neither rocked your boat nor negatively impacted the feasibility of the task at hand. It does all of this in the most casual, non-value-adding way possible. It's like saying something without saying anything at all.
To paint a human picture, if "cool" were a member of your squad, she'd be the super chill, edibles-popping, Anthropologie-clad one. That friend wouldn't think twice about you saying it. That friend is also probably vague, flaky and underemployed. She's fun to hang with on the weekend, but you wouldn't be devastated if she up and moved to Berlin, never to return. She wouldn't make the cut on your apocalypse dream team.
Your colleague took issue because the situation (i.e. the deadline) was not, in fact, cool to her and because you might have expressed yourself more clearly. "I see!" or "Got it!" would have confirmed that you were following along without dragging coolness into it.
My two cents: "Cool" is fine for casual interactions with coworkers you're on friendly terms with and better avoided in meetings or while working with with higher-ups. Cool?