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What Did You Say? Six Things You Should Never Say to Your Boss

published October 08, 2007

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In addition to those tell-it-like-it-is moments that you'd love to let loose at the office, there are a few specific phrases that you really should keep to yourself. Read on to find out some of the most annoying and damaging comments you can make to your boss.

1. "I know what I'm doing."

In a successful business relationship, especially if you are lower on the food chain than the other person, there should be some level of humility and a willingness to grow and improve as a professional. So when your superior criticizes how you approached a project or a situation, you really should take heed. Usually there are some good reasons that person is above you, and you should take his or her advice seriously.

Even if what your superior says is illogical, unethical, or just plain wrong, you should accept the words with open arms and attempt to find some sort of use for them. Besides, an ego-driven comment like "I know what I'm doing," no matter how much you think you know, sounds uncooperative, closed-minded, ignorant, and rude. Even the most seasoned professionals admit that they learn new things every day in their careers, and that really is the truth. So don't shoot yourself in the foot by making such a bold and arrogant statement.

2. "We need to talk. It's important."

This one is a killer. I wish more professionals realized what a nuisance this is. Bothering your boss about an insignificant matter is bad enough, but trying to trap him or her into a meeting or call with this line, with no explanation, is disrespectful and tacky.

Any time you want to talk to your boss about something, whatever it may be, give him or her a quick synopsis in a phone call, email, or message. That way, if it's a matter that can be cleared up without meeting or at a more appropriate time, his or her time can be saved. The one thing you never want to waste or disrespect is your boss's time.

I used to work with an employee who would do this sort of thing to our boss almost on a daily basis; it was out of control. She would march to his office, knock on his open door, say, "I need to talk to you about a couple things," walk in, and sit down before he could even say anything.

Although my former boss should have stood up for himself and sent her away, this employee's behavior was incredibly disrespectful and annoying. She would demand our boss's attention for matters that he had no time for—he had more important things to worry about. She usually would vent about her problems with completing her tasks and duties, which voiced a more serious problem, I think. But the point is you need to value your boss's time and try to solve your job's problems and issues without cornering him or her in an office.

3. "That's not part of my job description."

If your boss asks you to put on a chicken suit and do the Macarena, you do it. Okay, I guess that's a bit degrading, but my point is you should do whatever your boss asks of you. Many times, unless your firm is in the top tier, projects that do not directly relate to your job will get assigned to you. It actually happens more often than not.

Don't look at these assignments as time-consuming, mindless tasks. These are actually little jewels that you can leverage to get your next raise. When it's time to be reviewed for a raise, you will have a neat collection of extra completed tasks that will hopefully boost your chances of getting more money.

Taking on additional responsibilities also helps establish your reliability, trust, and team-player attitude in the eyes of your boss. This is priceless in terms of your current job, as well as your career's future.

4. "I didn't have time to do it."

I'm not asking you to lie to your boss. Yes, sometimes you won't have enough time to complete everything on time, but this should not happen when your boss is waiting for something. If your boss assigns you a task, get it done as soon as possible—even before he or she needs it. This will help build your credibility with him or her.

If you have a boss who assigns you five to 10 gigantic extra tasks per week, all with the same due date, okay, yes, you have an issue. My point is you should take action on every single task assigned by your boss as soon as you can. Prioritize your tasks and strive to complete those which must be done on time.

If you cannot complete a task by its due date, do all that you can for the time being so that when you have to answer to your boss about the task, you can report on its progress and pinpoint a date when it will be done. We're not machines, but if we manage our time properly, we can at least get the ball rolling on most tasks, even if we physically don't have the time to complete them.

Some bosses don't even particularly care whether the task is done; they just like to test employees or see how well they can execute the task. So if you walk into your boss's office and tell him or her you didn't have time to finish your task, you will have failed the test and lost major credibility points.

5. "It's 5:00 p.m. I'm going home."

Even if your boss schedules a meeting with you at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, keeping you from making it to your dinner date on time, you need to bite your tongue. Sometimes you need to work late to complete timely assignments, and sometimes you need to work late to show your boss that you're a superstar in his or her company. It's just the way life is. Again, as with doing extra work, you need to tough it out to work toward greater rewards.

6. "That was so-and-so's fault."

Blame: another ugly thing to see an employee do. Never lower yourself to pointing fingers in front of your boss. If you did screw up, admit it to your boss and take the heat. If you simply apologize and do what you can to help fix the problem, your boss will see that you learned a lesson, and hopefully he or she will move on from it.

If the issue is really not your fault, you should still handle the situation carefully and gracefully. I'm not asking you to create a façade for your boss. Choose your words carefully in situations where someone else is at fault for the failure of a project. Present how you contributed to the project and explain everything from your point of view. Then your boss will see your side of the story and figure out whose fault it is without you even mentioning the guilty party.

published October 08, 2007

( 57 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.