8 Words You Should Never Say to Your Boss
You worked hard to get your job, and you’re probably making goals to earn a raise, promotion, or both this year. On top of presentations, sales reports, and other performance indicators, much of your success on the job depends on how you interact with your boss. You want to make a good impression and show you’re worthy of being trusted with responsibility. But despite all your good intentions, a slip of the tongue could quickly tarnish your boss’ perception of you.
One mistake is likely reparable. But consistent habits with certain words and phrases will have their negative effects. “There are certain comments and questions based on negative perspectives that can set you back with your boss,” workplace expert Lynn Taylor told Business Insider. “If they continue unabated, these phrases can sabotage an otherwise great job.”
Cut these eight words and phrases from your workplace vocabulary, and you’ll be on the right path to making a better impression with your boss.
If you had parents or mentors who encouraged you along the way, they probably tried to take “I can’t” out of your vocabulary early in life. The phrase has detrimental effects in your own life, and it takes on new consequences when you use the phrase at work. There’s a reason “can-do” attitudes are looked upon favorably.
Using the word “can’t” shows your lack of confidence and an unwillingness to take chances, Taylor told Business Insider. Neither will earn you any points with your boss.
The word is especially detrimental if it takes the form of “I can’t work with this person.” Author Bernard Marr reminded us that interpersonal problems aren’t your boss’ issue. “You can ask your boss to help mediate a tough situation, but you don’t want to make it sound like an ultimatum,” Marr wrote on LinkedIn.
It’s good to have an optimistic attitude and look forward to successes in the future. But while hope might spring eternal in your personal goals, you don’t want to use the word with your boss.
In a post on LinkedIn, business expert Georges Le Nigen used the example of saying, “I hope we get the contract signed by tomorrow.” When you use terminology like this, he argued, it “shows basically that your level of confidence about the signature of this new contract relies more on divine intervention than careful planning and clear understanding of timelines.”
If you’re sure the contract is going to get signed, say so and explain why — you just wrapped up a call with the signee, you got confirmation from their lawyers, etc. If you’re not sure, talk about the steps taken so far and what the plan is to complete the contract.
Some people contend there are times when you have to put your foot down. But even that advice avoids using the word “no” outright. It’s not the same as refusing a request from your co-workers, but it’s just as tricky.
“Unless it’s illegal or unethical, I cannot think of a single situation where it’s a good idea to say no to your boss,” Steve Tobak, author and managing partner at Invisor Consulting, wrote for Entrepreneur. “You can ask questions, push back, or negotiate, but don’t say no unless you’ve got a great resume and don’t need the job.”
If you do need to refuse a request from your boss, it’s necessary to have a well-founded explanation, Taylor told Business Insider. Explain your current workload, or ask them to help you prioritize what’s on your plate. But don’t expect them to be accommodating if you answer bluntly with the negative.
Losing is never a positive thing for a business. If you’re in sales, reporting a lost client or business deal is an especially tough thing to discuss with your superiors. Instead of using the word “lost,” quickly analyze why the deal didn’t go through. That way, you can report what you’ve learned, not just the fact that it happened, Le Nigen wrote on LinkedIn.
Le Nigen suggested getting feedback from the customer about why they didn’t choose your company and coming up with a strategy to combat that in the future. Having a game plan will show you’re committed to finding solutions, even if it’s an unpleasant conversation.
5. ‘That’s not my job’
Obviously this is a phrase and not just one word, but it’s one of the most detrimental things you can say to your boss. “… If your boss asks you to do something, it’s part of your job. Unless it’s something that you actually do not know how to do, it’s better to just suck it up and do it,” Marr wrote on LinkedIn. Using the phrase implies you don’t care about your boss or the company’s success if you’re not willing to pick up an odd job now and then.
If you do keep getting assigned odd jobs that are keeping you from your work priorities, Marr suggested talking with your boss to explain why it’s a problem. But the time to do that isn’t when you’re asked for another quick favor — approach the issue at another time. If your boss keeps asking you to do morally wrong things, you’re probably better off finding another job.
In general, you want to avoid vague phrases or adjectives that don’t have evidence to support them. Using the word “awesome” or other descriptors that don’t actually mean anything is an example of this, Le Nigen wrote on LinkedIn.
Instead, Le Nigen suggested using quantifying and objective data to describe why the deal is a great one. By saying the deal is the largest in company history and sharing how much money it will make the company, you prove its value. And you don’t have to use words, such as “awesome” or “fantastic,” that mean very little without context.
7. ‘You’re wrong’
Are you brazen enough to tell your boss they’re wrong? You might want to pat yourself on the back for catching a manager’s mistake, but broadcasting it isn’t the right way to handle the situation. “Openly criticizing or pointing out your boss’s mistake is a sure way to be excluded from future meetings or ignored the next time you raise your hand to speak,” etiquette expert Rosalinda Oropeza Randall told Business Insider.
If your boss made a harmless mistake, such as slightly mispronouncing a name, leave it alone. But if it’s an error that needs to be corrected choose your words wisely. Randall suggests saying, “I may be misinformed on this one, but I was under the impression that …” to bring up the problem. It’s a way for you to show your stuff without being rude.
“Do, or do not. There is no try.” What was applicable in Jedi training also works in the office. We all should try our best every day at work (and in life). But when the boss wants a concrete answer about an assignment, you should know whether you’ll be able to get it done — and not just say you’ll try.
Taylor gave this example to Business Insider: “Imagine yourself asking, ‘Will you be signing off on my paycheck on the 15th?’ and your boss responding, ‘I will try.'” When others are counting on your work you shouldn’t leave them with questions.
Additional reporting by Nikelle Murphy.