Author of "Your Journey from Fired to Hired"
Career Advice

17 Phrases You Should Never Say to Your Boss

It’s funny, my dad’s been gone almost 20 years but he’s still a pivotal force in my life…and my career!  You see Dad didn’t talk much, but when he did he had these short one-liners that were packed with a punch.  He would just utter a few words and look at you with those miraculous blue eyes…and a hint of a smile.  One of my all-time favorites was “think before you speak.”

Sadly, I didn’t think his catch phrases (and life lessons!) were that unique at the time.  I thought all dads shared these types of sage wisdom with their kids.  But over the course of my career…I’ve noticed that either a lot of dads aren’t talking or kids aren’t listening.  So this one’s for you dad!

Doing great work is only part of finding career success.  If you’re looking to impress the boss, it’s also imperative you “think before you speak” and avoid phrases like these:

  1. I need a raise. While it might come as a bit of a shock, your boss has much larger concerns than what you “think” you need.  Even if you are performing at top levels, there are better ways to start this conversation.  If you are interested in learning how to start the dialogue check out, “9 Simple Steps to ask for a Raise.” 
  1. There’s just no way. Much like you like options in your life, so does your boss.  If completing something by the requested deadline is literally impossible (regardless of overtime or extra effort,) then it’s always best to offer some options.  For example, “To get you a good report, I really need until Tuesday.  Is that feasible?”  And in case you’re dealing with a boss with a reputation for being unreasonable, you might check out, “6 Tips when your Boss wants TOO Much!” 
  1. Last night was Epic! Some bosses work hard to be “friendly” with their teams.  While that can be admirable, don’t underestimate their first priority…getting the work done.  In short, don’t share details of a happy hour that ran out of control and how you’re head is still pounding this morning.
  1. It’s not my fault. Consummate professionals accept responsibility and work to fix things that went wrong.  And more importantly they are rarely concerned with pointing fingers and more concerned with the overall success of the team.  But for those times that you know it’s “on you,” develop a game plan to either fix the problem or ensure it won’t happen again.  Then approach your boss with your “confession” and most importantly the solution.
  1. I’m not sure. How do you really expect your boss to respond if you told him, “I’m not sure?”  Realistically, you are paid to “be sure” about your responsibilities.  If you don’t have the answers, then chances are you either haven’t asked enough questions or haven’t taken the initiative to dig deep enough into the situation.  Both of which frustrate bosses beyond understanding!
  1. But we’ve always done it like this. Successful people don’t live in the past…or even the present for that matter.  They are always thinking about how something could be made bigger, better or even more cost effective.  A phrase like, “we’ve always done it like this,” tells your boss your feet are squarely planted in the past.  And news flash…so is your career!  Instead you may find some tips in my, “8 Tips for Wildly Successful People.”
  1. I’m having trouble at home. It’s always best to leave your personal life (and associated dirty laundry) in the parking lot.  Sure it’s possible you may have an understanding boss who can cut you a little slack until you work through things, but it’s also possible they will remember your inabilities to handle personal drama long after you’ve worked through the situation.  Bottom line:  Your boss’s number one priority is getting the work done…not counseling you through life’s struggles.
  1. Let’s talk Religion, Politics and Sex. Networking guru’s recognize hot topics like religious or political preferences should be avoided at all costs.  You are certainly entitled to your opinions, but understand that others may not feel the same as you and can be offended…which of course will take involvement from your boss (not to mention HR) to resolve. And the same easily goes for your sex life.  I don’t care if you are complaining about the lack of activity (or abundance) or your preferences in partner sexuality.  These topics don’t belong at work…period!
  1. You know she’s a problem right? While I understand that a teammate may not be pulling their weight, there are much better ways to handle the problem than blurting out this question.  For starters, you are asking your boss to berate an employee to a fellow employee….a no no for sure!  But secondly, there is no good way for your boss to respond.  If he answers yes, then he’s admitting he hasn’t dealt with the problem.  And a no response forces him to admit he’s out of sync with the team.
  1. If you don’t, I will. No one, including your boss, likes to be held hostage.  And while it may not be your intention, you might as well include a ransom note when uttering this phrase to your boss.  Whether it’s in regard to a salary increase, more resources, promotions or even an emergency day off, this one is almost guaranteed to put you on the bad side of favor.  For more tips on what to avoid check out, “12 Things that Drive your Boss Crazy!”   
  1. I assumed. Little good can come from telling the boss that you’re lazy yet that’s exactly what the phrase “I assumed” tells them.  Your job is to think through things, look for pitfalls and ask intelligent questions.  It’s not to take the easy path and make unfounded assumptions.  Your boss will react much better to, “I made an error and here’s what I learned.”  Bottom line:  Assuming makes an ASS of U and ME.
  1. I’m bored. Look I understand that not every task or position is riveting, but ultimately the work needs done.  If you aren’t challenged by your work, then find a way to be invested and make it challenging.  Perhaps you can find a way to make a process better or incorporate some new technology.  Ultimately, stay engaged in the task at hand and let them know you are up for more challenging opportunities as they arise.  And if you simply can’t wrap your head around this, then it’s likely time to step up your job search before you’re asked to leave.
  1. This is what you need to do. Really?!?  Phrases like this show a total disrespect for your boss and his decision making abilities.  Even if the solution is painfully obvious to you, there are far better ways to start the conversation.  For example, “have we ever tried doing it this way?”  And it’s important to notice the use of “we” instead of “you.”  Changing this one word can take the phrase from pushy and judgmental to indicating that you consider yourself part of the team and the solution.
  1. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but….Stop right there. Nothing that comes after this phrase can be good to your professional career.  Phrases like this show a lapse in confidence, judgement and decision making abilities.  All of which are critically important if you plan to have a successful career.  For more things to avoid you may be interested in, “10 Things that make You look Unprofessional.”
  1. You didn’t tell me to do that. Imagine for one moment if your boss had to give instructions for every movement to every team member…it’s impossible.  And there would also be no sense in keeping you on the payroll.  Always remember, you are being paid to think, and that includes thinking about things that weren’t specifically mentioned.
  1. That’s not my job. It’s no surprise that our lean economy has pushed many businesses to do more with less.  While it’s understandable, it has also made phrases like, “it’s not my job,” much less tolerable.  Ultimately, successful people consider themselves part of the team and will do anything necessary to help the business (and boss!) succeed.
  1. I’m out of here! Admittedly there are times that we’ve probably all secretly dreamed of how good it may feel to just walk out mid-day but it’s never a good move.  If you’re tired of the work or the environment, then find something better and tender your resignation with a two week notice.  While you may not plan to ever walk across the burned bridge again, it’s a small, small world out there.

What’s the most crazy thing you’ve ever seen someone say to the boss?

Article written by:

Kathi Miller-Miller is a sought after career specialist and author of “Your Journey from Fired to Hired.” Kathi draws on her 25+ years of success (and failures!) to offer her readers advice on topics ranging from dealing with a boss that drives you crazy to managing millennials...all in a light-hearted and easy to read style.

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