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5 things you should never say to your boss

Erin Snodgrass   

5 things you should never say to your boss
Careers3 min read
Workplace experts shared five phrases to avoid when speaking to your boss.    Rudzhan Nagiev/Getty Images
  • Building a good relationship with your boss is imperative for any ambitious achiever.
  • Employees have more power than they may think in cultivating positive experiences with the boss.

Bosses: they hire us, fire us, and approve our PTO requests.

Cultivating a good relationship with the head honcho is imperative for both the high-achieving striver seeking an off-cycle promotion as well as the laid-back slacker just trying to skirt through their 40 hours each week.

"In the world of business, annoying your boss is akin to poking a beehive with a stick," Kraig Kleeman, CEO of The New Workforce, said.

Employees have more power than they may think in winning their manager's favor. Business Insider spoke to several career coaches, workplace experts, and bosses themselves about the phrases employees should avoid when communicating with their superiors.

1. 'That's not my job'

This phrase can be particularly frustrating for managers because it suggests a lack of flexibility and an unwillingness to contribute to the team, Prerika Agarwal, founder and CEO of Inspiration Careers, told BI.

"It's like nails on a chalkboard," said Nguyen Huy, founder of Hawaiin T-shirt company Trendy Aloha. "We're all in this together, and a little flexibility goes a long way."

Bosses value employees who are willing to go above and beyond their defined roles when a situation calls for it, according to Alvina Miller, a career advisor at Career Success Australia.

There's a fine line between "acting your wage" and being a dependable team player. Workplace experts suggest asking clarifying questions instead of stonewalling your boss with bullet points from your job description.

"Employees should focus on how they can help or suggest someone who might be better suited for the task," Agarwal said.

2. 'That's how we've always done it'

Routines may be comfortable, but employees who resist change can find themselves in hot water with the boss.

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, workplaces across all industries are embracing innovation and challenging the status quo in an attempt to stay competitive, Stephen Greet, CEO and cofounder of BeamJobs, said.

"Managers look for team members who are willing to challenge conventional wisdom, welcome fresh ideas, and never stop looking for methods to make procedures run more smoothly," he told BI.

Employees who cite the "old" way of doing things are often using the phrase as an excuse to continue doing a task in an inefficient way, Allan Vu, founder of Work Remote Now!, said.

3. 'I don't know'

It's perfectly OK for employees not to have all the answers, but "I don't know" should always be followed up with "I'll find out," Agarwal said.

Citing ignorance shows a lack of initiative and problem-solving skills, both of which are highly desirable employee traits, she added.

"Information is very important, and nowadays, it is usually easy to find," Kleeman said. "If you don't know something, find out. It's as simple as that."

4. 'I was never told that'

Bosses can't stand the "I was never told that" defense, Mark Pierce, an attorney, businessman, and founding partner at Wyoming Trust, told BI.

"Sometimes, an employee may genuinely not have been told something, but if it becomes a pattern, it can become a big source of management frustration," he said.

The phrase can suggest an employee is trying to shirk responsibility, Pierce added. Placing the blame on someone else also robs employees of the chance to learn and improve.

Alina Samchenko, a workplace expert and COO at HireDevelopersBiz, said the phrase also indicates an employee expectation of being micromanaged, which can be frustrating to managers who value self-motivation.

5. 'I can't…'

Any sentence that starts with "I can't" can be a trigger for managers, Kleeman said. That includes employees saying they can't work with a particular colleague, Miller added.

"Openly refusing to collaborate can be seen as unprofessional and disruptive," she said. "It's better to address conflicts with a solution-oriented approach."

Instead of crying "can't," employees should suggest alternatives and solutions to their manager.