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10 Things You Should NEVER Say to Your Boss
April 14th, 2010 by Kate Seidametova  Posted in Career Advice, In the Workplace, Most Popular

Closeup portrait of young female covering her mouth with both haWe all have bad days at work.  Sometimes it reflects on the things we say to our coworkers and superiors. What you say tells a lot about you as a professional and creates impressions that could hunt you for years. 

Getting a pink slip because your boss didn’t like something you said is something that will probably not happen to you on the spot.  However, one careless phrase may adversely affect your entire career, especially if it creates a long lasting impression of you.  Subconsciously, your boss may pass you for a promotion or let you go during layoffs simply because of the impression they got years ago due to something you said in the past.  People have good memory when it comes to impressions. Chances are, you boss wouldn’t even remember exactly what you said but they are sure to remember what they have thought of it!

The following are some of the things you can say that can put at risk your career:

1. “Why do I need to do this? This is stupid!”

Don’t ever say this to your boss! This questions their authority and their judgment about something that they believe has to be done. It belittles your boss and the entire enterprise. If your boss has asked you to do it, they must think it is important enough. By saying this you openly challenge their competency as a boss. Not a very smart move!

2. “That’s not in my job description”

The weaker players are the first ones to get pink slips.  In this economy, companies keep employers who can wear many hats, even if it is not technically in their job description, and who don’t complain about it.  If your boss thinks you are unwilling or incapable to do what you’ve been asked, you will be considered a weak player.

3. “It is not my fault”

Your boss doesn’t really care whose fault it is. Most of the time they just want the problem fixed.  When you say it is not your fault, you sound as if you don’t want to fix the problem, or worse: that you are trying to cover up your mistake by pointing fingers at someone else. This behavior tells to your boss that you are not only unreliable, but that you can’t be trusted.

4. “This is not my problem”

If your boss has brought it up – it is your problem. Moreover, a problem at work is everyone’s problem. Saying this just shows that you don’t care and that you are not a very good team player.  Ultimately, getting things done at is the manager’s responsibility and saying it is not your problem automatically turns it into your boss’ problem.

5. “I don’t know how to do it”

You may actually not know how to do something but it is all about how you say it.  Saying “I just don’t know” shows a weakness and it also may be interpreted as an excuse that you just don’t want to do it. Tell your boss that you are prepared to do the task but that you may require assistance or guidance because you haven’t done it before. Ask them if they or someone else can provide it to you.

6. “I am overqualified for this”

Maybe you are, maybe you are not. However, you are at work and instead of playing a big shot, you should just roll up your sleeves and get the work done.  Do it yourself or delegate it to someone else – but get it done!  This is what your boss  expects of you and anything less will show them that you are actually not qualified to get things done (kind of the opposite of the message you were trying to get across).

7. “It is impossible to do”

When you say this, it does not sound like it is actually impossible, it sounds like: “I don’t know how to do it” or “I don’t want to do it”.  Either way, if someone else ends up doing this task and they manage to do it, what you said will make you look like an incompetent idiot.  This could be an irreversible mistake so don’t say it unless you are ready to bet your professionalism on it.

8. “I don’t get paid enough to do this job”

With the current rate of unemployment, there are millions of people who don’t get paid at all. They will be glad to have your job.  This is exactly what your boss will think of the situation. Enough said. 

9. “I will try”

Your boss doesn’t want you to try it; they want you to do it. Trying is not an option, you either do it or you don’t.  Saying “I will try” will tell your boss that they cannot depend on you. It will not give them the assurance they need that the task will be taken care of.

10. “I don’t have time for this”

Translates into “I don’t want to do this”. If you are over your capacity, just tell your boss that it may conflict with other work and talk to them about prioritizing tasks.

The bottom line: your boss wants to hear solutions. They don’t want to hear complaints or see you pass the puck. When you do too much of it, you make their life more difficult.  Your boss still needs to get work done so they will either have to do it themselves or find someone else to do it.  In which case, they don’t see much value in you and you are out!
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Tags: office-culture, office-psychology, relationships-at-work, at-work, top-list, the-worst, professional-courtesy, professionalism, coworkers, boss, career-advice, common-mistakes
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  • Melissa

    Although I've heard these warnings made on previous occasions and yes they do hold true, I'm having a hard time respecting most of them. To me it says spineless all over it. In my working career, I've had great bosses and lousy bosses and I can tell you that the lousy ones will walk all over you if they can..delegating everything to relieve some of the stress they have..sometimes they throw the most inane garbage in your direction because they just don't want to have to deal with it or think about it any longer. This is stuff that truly isn't in 'my job description', and does belong on another's plate that has been assigned these types of tasks, but because the boss isn't thinking straight, it gets misdirected. Although I don't state 'it's not in my job description', I do have personal goals as well to fulfill, along with supporting the well-being of the company. I have made it quite clear that in the list of priorities we are focusing on, especially with limited man power, it's best if I keep my attention directed toward 'A' (that's how I say, not in my job description).

    I'm seeing employees being disrespected all over the place during this recession and it disgusts me. High expectations to take on tasks that don't further careers, work overtime and a lack of care toward employee inspiration, motivation and happiness. I believe a great boss discusses ideas with their employees and when possible asks how they feel about the ideas discussed and moving forward in a specific direction. Dialogue should be respectful and a two way street, as opposed to ordering non stop with little regard for what the employee thinks. I've managed a few people more recently in my career and they all positively love working with me..note that I said 'with', not 'for'.

    I'm so thoroughly turned off by this fear of employees being 'honest' with their bosses and the penalties of displaying true honesty, that I'm now directing my attention to building up my own personal business. Working for others for the most part has been a huge disappointment. Working 'with' others though has been rewarding, with many ups and downs but in the long run both satisfying and motivating.

  • Mavis I

    These days, anyone who would say any of these things to their boss is a moron---there are thousands of people looking for the job you will lose.

  • Daisy

    Although the basic tenents of the article is true, I think it's simplistic and applys mostly to younger workers who are just starting out. For everyone else, things don't happen in a vaccuum and communication between a supervisor and an employee is a two-way street.

  • This is EXELLENT advice for ALL employed people to apply, it WILL be benificial for BOTH parties, firstly the BOSS wil get the work out AND be HAPPY with YOU, then YOU will be adding VALUE to your own portfolio by learning new skills or getting the BEST refferal note ever for ALL your efforts.

    BUT seriously-- The BEST solution I see for this problem of having a BOSS ,is to empower YOURSELF by education, personal development and Mindset to be YOUR OWN BOSS.
    The Internet ( where we are conversing now ) is the TOOL I'm referring to, to use in your efforts to become Financially and Corporately Independent.
    Want to know HOW ?

  • Michael

    These items are all good. Having supervised junior engineers for about 10 years, I have heard all of these, and more. It is a very true statement that your supervisor wants to know they can trust you to get a job done, and also to know when you are in over your head and need assistance, or answers to questions. I would much rather someone ask me 20 questions, even if some are redundant, until I know they understand what is needed. In business, it is results that count; not that you tried.

  • Pat

    This article must target a young worker. I have never heard any co-worker speak this way at the workplace to anyone, nonetheless to an authority figure. Besides, adults at the workp0lace tend to negotiate and treat one another with respect, including ":the boss."

    I'd like to see articles of more substance posted online.

  • elcee

    You know, having been a "boss" for many years, I have to disagree with #1. Now, admittedly, there is a better way to say it, but I have never thought badly about a direct report that questioned a task, as long as the questioning was done in a respectful manner. Bosses (and I hate that word) are people too, make mistakes, and do, on occasion, assign stupid work. There are times that I've known that I've asked for something stupid and a little tactful questioning has gotten both of us out of an unproductive situation-- me, because I have a way out of a potential problem (i.e. angry, resentful employee wasting valuable time on a stupid request) and the staffer, because he/she then does not have to waste valuable time on a stupid request and thus, not become angry and resentful.

    I always tell my staffers that I actually have a problem with people who, when told to jump, immediately start jumping. The people that are the best workers, because they have to ability to think beyond their job description, are the ones who ask "Why are we jumping?" before commencing to jump. They may still have to jump, but sometimes they may not, either because they have a different way of doing the work, or, back to #1 the request is stupid.

    That being said, I would move #2 up to #1, and bold it-- that is the one thing that I NEVER want to hear.

  • Manze

    Here is what I have heard people say: "If I ask you to jump, don't ask me 'Why are we jumping?'. Ask me 'How high?'" LOVLROTF

  • Shawn

    Agree totally that it's a valuable article - especially for new workers but also as a reminder for continuing workers. It is so important not to be negative or use negative phraseology in the workplace - to your boss or other colleagues.

    However, also think that all points should include a recommendation for how to phrase / handle the issue or objection if it's valid! Now, only two points (5 and 10) include a recommendation.

  • Vivek

    The article was worth a read, but I think it was very scary at the same time. After every sentence it kind of says "You're out" or "they'll find someone better than you...". I don't think that's completely true, infact at times we do need to pass on our thoughts to our boss from time to time. Otherwise we might be taken for granted and our politeness may land us in doing 3 persons job with salary of one.
    I would appreciate if I can get more opinion on this.

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