Things Never to Say to Your Boss

On 03/31/2012, in Career, by Jordan Wilson

There are a variety of things that you should never say to your boss.

Some should be (hopefully) obvious to readers. “You sure are one fat, smelly, idiot.” “Does the company provide free needles?” “Would you and your spouse be up for a three-some?”

But there are more subtle comments that also can hurt your career. Comments that most bosses hear everyday in the office.

Avoid these statements and you will improve the probability of career success. 

Nine Things Never to Say to Your Boss (But Employees Often Do)

Yahoo and Monster offer Nine Things Never to Say to Your Boss. Not earth-shaking, but worth posting over your desk at work.

Note that none of these comments are offensive or idiotic. In fact, I have heard all of these at times. And most of them happen daily for employers with a moderate number of staff.

If you can avoid these type of comments, you will avoid annoying your boss. That is good for your career in the long run.

A few thoughts from me on the article.

1. “I need a raise.”

I get inflation. But unless the company can increase its prices it may not be possible to give employees a cost of living raise each year. If an annual raise is important, look for jobs that include annual inflation increases in the employment contract.

Often, the “I need a raise” issue comes more from tenure or a new personal expense. I once had an Accounts Payable clerk who would request a raise every year. Simply because she had been in the job an additional year.

Had she become more efficient at the job since last evaluation? Learned new skills? Added new responsibilities? No. Only that extra year with the company warranted more money.

The same logic applies to those who buy a house, get married, have a child, or incur some other new expense in their lives. These issues have not improved your job performance.

If you want a raise, demonstrate that you deserve it. Acquire new skills, document how you have made the company better, show your added value that justifies a higher income.

2. “That just isn’t possible.”

I hate employees who are yes-men. If I suggest something idiotic, I want candor from staff. At times something will not be possible. Fine, but make sure you can objectively explain why.

Most times though, your boss will not say idiotic things. Your boss seeks a solution to a specific problem. He/she is looking for you to offer up a creative, useful recommendation. Or to get the task done on time. And normally there exists a possible solution.

If you cannot consistently find that solution, sooner or later your employer will find someone else who can.

5. “But I emailed you about that last week.”

I empathize with both boss and employee on this one.

While working in Zurich, I could easily get over 1000 work related emails each week. Things slip through the cracks. Bad boss, yes.

Many bosses who get far less emails will still miss your communication, yet hold you responsible for their oversight. I have been on that end of the stick more than once from my superiors.

Follow up on key items, especially those that are time sensitive. If a deadline is missed because your boss did not see your email, it is safe to say that you will take the blame (at least in his/her mind and in communications to his/her bosses). That will not be good for your career.

Always remember two very true rules of business emails.

Never put important information for your boss in emails where he/she is only copied on the mail. Bosses often skip emails if they are only copied.

Never put crucial information in emails where your boss is one of many recipients. The more “To’s”, the less chance he/she will read the thing.

6. “It’s not my fault.” 

I do not really care (at that moment of panic) whose fault it really is. I care more about who fixes the situation. Correctly and quickly.

I will remember who fixed the problem. If it is you, great.

I will also remember who pointed fingers and denied responsibility. It it is you, not so great.

7. “I don’t know.”

Another tricky one.

I hate employees who do not know but pretend they do. A waste of my time and one that can often take us down the wrong path.

I do not mind someone telling me they do not know. But I do mind those who do not immediately go and find the answer.

Much like the “It’s not possible” statement, your boss wants a solution. And quickly. If you do not know the answer, and cannot find it quickly enough, your employer will start asking questions to someone else.

8. “But we’ve always done it this way.”

One of my favorites. Very popular in office settings.

To be fair, many bosses ascribe to this exact philosophy. So your employer may appreciate you uttering these words.

But my teeth grind when I hear it from staff. The old way may be good, but there are always new ways to look at things. Complacency and playing it safe kills many businesses.

When your boss raises a business issue, he/she knows how it is done today and usually why. By broaching the topic, your manager likely wants to rethink that decision. Be prepared.

Also, “we have always done it this way” is never the right answer in any context.

In any business analysis the status quo is always an option to consider. But that is much different from “we’ve always done it that way.”

The latter is simply laziness or fear of change. There is no thought involved. Maintaining the status quo requires assessment of the current way things are done.

Maybe the current method is the best course vis-à-vis the alternatives. Often it is. I recommend that in any business decisions you always consider the “no change” option.

But you need to undertake the analysis. Because you have done it that way for 10 years is not an evaluation. It is lazy (and scares your boss). If you are perceived as intellectually lazy (or scare your boss), your career will suffer.

Key Takeaway

Bosses want employees who make the boss’s life easier. Employees to whom the boss can delegate work and get successful results.

Employers do not want staff who cannot get the job done, blame others for problems, or take the easy way out.

Become known as a results-oriented, get the task done on time and on budget kind of employee and you will be in high demand.

If you cannot be trusted to get things done, your opportunities for advancement will dry up. Not quite as fast as trying to borrow a crack pipe from your boss, but surprisingly close.

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