Given how much time you spend around your boss, it’s hard not to form a personal opinion about them. In some cases, an incredible boss becomes a good friend and mentor. In less-than-ideal scenarios, though, a horrible boss can make work the bane of your existence.
But regardless of how you feel towards him or her, it’s important to bear in mind the importance of professional distance and to never, ever, cross certain lines. With that in mind, here’s a complete list of the things that shouldn’t come up in conversation with your superiors—period. So read on, and we hope you rise the ranks so fast you get a nosebleed! And for more sage career advice, master the 25 Genius Ways to Conquer Office Burnout.
“I am so hungover right now.”
It’s one thing to go out on a weekday, but it’s another thing entirely to tell your boss about it. If the higher-ups know that you’re reeling from a night of partying, then they’re going to assume (and rightfully so) that you’re not doing your job as well as you could be. So just do yourself a favor, and hide your hangover with coffee, Advil, and your most pristine outfit. Or, just try The 10 Best Science-Backed Hangover Cures.
“Mind if I dip out early today for an interview?”
It’s completely acceptable to want to start looking for other jobs at a certain point in your career. What’s not acceptable, however, is to tell your boss that you’re skipping out on your current job in order to interview for a potentially new one. There are good ways to go about looking for a new job while you’re currently employed, but this is not one of them.
“Your job isn’t even that hard.”
Don’t ever insinuate, let alone blatantly blurt out, that your boss sits around doing nothing all day. Even if you feel like you’re doing both yours and your boss’ jobs while they take all the credit, it’s not your place to say that to the person who signs your checks (unless, of course, you’re trying to get fired). If you feel like your boss is giving you too much work, try these 13 Clever Ways to Tell Your Boss “No.”
“Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to be here.”
Most people don’t want to burn daylight sitting in a cubicle, but that’s just one of the many responsibilities that comes with being an adult. Another part of growing up? Learning when to keep your mouth shut, so as not to lose said job. And if you need help showing up on time, learn the 15 Easy Hacks That Will Make You On Time—All The Time.
“I am so bored right now.”
The last thing a manager wants to hear is that their employee, whom they are paying to be there, is bored. If you don’t have something to do at work, you should either A) Ask for something to do, or B) Sit quietly and wait for another assignment. What you shouldn’t do is tell your boss that you’re sitting idly on the company’s dime.
“That’s not my fault.”
When your boss approaches you with a problem that needs to be fixed, your instinct should never be to blame someone else for messing up. Doing so makes you look like you’ll throw your coworkers under the bus at any given chance—and nobody wants an employee who’s not a team player.
“That’s not my job.”
Sometimes your boss is going to assign things to you that aren’t necessarily in your job description, and that’s just the way it is. You can either roll with the punches and do as your boss tells you to, or you can complain about your assignments and risk losing your job.
“For some, overfamiliarity can come in the form of complaints like ‘this isn’t even my job,’ ” says Nate Masterson, a human resources manager for natural product maker Maple Holistics. “Comments like that to a coworker make for a stressful environment, but comments like that to your boss could jeopardize your position.”
“I voted for…”
Politics have no place in the office, and they especially don’t belong in any conversations with your boss. Your manager doesn’t necessarily share your beliefs about how the country should be run—and if political differences are enough to end a personal relationships, then they’re definitely enough to ruin a working one.
“My salary is way too low.”
If you feel that you deserve a raise a work, then you should put together a compelling argument highlighting your accomplishments and all the extra work you’ve taken on. What you shouldn’t do is walk up to your boss’ desk, complain about your current salary, and demand a 50 percent raise. And if you do want to talk to your boss about getting more money, This Is Exactly How to Ask for a Raise.
“I don’t really see myself at this job long-term.”
It’s fine if you don’t plan on being at your current job for the rest of your life, but don’t tell your boss about your plans to move on. If a higher-up gets word that you plan to move on in the near future, they’ll assume that you’re not giving your current job 100 percent of your focus, and they will try to replace you at the earliest possible opportunity with someone who will.
“We should grab drinks at lunch.”
You shouldn’t be drinking on the job, and you definitely shouldn’t be drinking on the job with your boss. Alcohol impairs your judgment, dulls your senses, and causes you to make mistakes—all of which you want to avoid when you’re in a workplace setting. And if you want to keep your job, here are 30 Things You Should Never Do at Work.
“I heard Becky call you ugly earlier.”
Gossiping is dangerous, especially in a professional work environment. And should you ever engage in a bit of tittle-tattle with coworkers, you should never tell your boss what you’ve overheard, particularly if it pertains to them. Not only will this make you look unprofessional, but managers also don’t want to have employees whom they can’t trust with private information.
“I’m out of vacation days, so can I just pretend to be sick instead?”
If you have no qualms about lying to your boss about being under the weather, then that’s your prerogative. But at least have the decency to actually pretend to be sick instead of telling them to your face that you’re going to lie. And if you find yourself in genuine need of more time off, This Secret Trick Leads to More Vacation Days at Work.
“I am way too smart for this job.”
Not only is this rude, but it’s also offensive. Don’t forget that your boss is also an employee at your company, and anything negative you say is going to inadvertently reflect on them, too.
“Do you mind if I catch up on Game of Thrones while I work?”
Seriously? This shouldn’t even be a question. Of course your boss minds that you’re watching television while you’re on the clock, and they’re going to mind even more that you actually thought it was appropriate to ask whether it was okay to.
“I can’t do that.”
If your boss gives you something to do and you don’t know how to do it, it’s your job to find someone who does who can teach you. Telling your boss that you flat-out “can’t” do something signals to them that you have no drive or motivation to learn, and no manager wants an employee who’s going to make their life harder instead of easier.
“My work isn’t done, but I assume you’ll just finish whatever’s left.”
Once again, this should go without saying, but your job as an employee first and foremost is to make your boss’ life easier. Your higher-ups have too much other work to do to also be babysitting you and picking up your slack.
“Guess who sealed the deal last night!”
Unless you work at an adult shop or a women’s magazine, any and all talk about sex should be postponed until after work hours (and such talk should never, ever involve your boss). Bringing up your extracurricular escapades in the office might just land you in HR’s office, so be careful.
“You look hot today.”
This doesn’t just go for your boss, either. In no circumstances should you be commenting on the appearance of a fellow coworker. Like sex, talking about someone else’s body in a professional setting can—and likely will—lead to trouble.
“I will most definitely be doing some illegal stuff this weekend.”
A general rule of thumb: When talking to your boss, don’t bring up anything illegal or morally questionable.
“Are you pregnant?”
If your boss is pregnant, then she probably isn’t ready to tell anyone and you’ve now put her in an uncomfortable situation. And if she isn’t with child? “You’ve totally embarrassed and offended her,” says Patrick Colvin, a strategic human resources business partner for USA Today.
“Mind if I borrow some money for lunch?”
Your boss is your superior, not your piggy bank. And “depending on how often and for what purposes you need to borrow money, it can give the impression that you are irresponsible,” says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, business etiquette and communications expert. If you are having problems with budgeting, try these 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.
“I just assumed that…”
Don’t ever assume anything! When something like a project deadline isn’t clear, then you should make a habit of emailing your boss and asking for clarification. Not only will you have a concrete answer this way, but you’ll also have your boss’ words in writing should there be a disagreement about semantics down the line.
“I’ll get that done immediately!”
This phrase isn’t entirely off limits, per se, but it sure is when you’re making promises to your boss that you can’t keep. And when you say something like this, “it really makes it nearly impossible to say that you need more time the next time a similar request comes along,” says Shaunna Keller, director of strategy and innovation at national advertising agency Brand Content. Keep your boss’ expectations reasonable (and pleasantly surprise them when you finish your work early).
“Can you keep it down?”
Many people prefer to work in a silent office environment—but unfortunately, you don’t have the right to ask your manager to keep it down. Your boss is your superior, and if they want to talk while they work, then they have that right. Asking them to keep quiet could come off as questioning their authority and create problems down the line.
“At my last job, they let me do that.”
Your last job and your current job have nothing to do with each other, and saying that you were allowed to do something at your old job doesn’t make it acceptable at your new one. Unless you’re suggesting to your boss a creative solution to a problem at work, don’t bring up your old job—especially things that your old boss used to let you do.
Keeping it light and casual in the office helps the time fly by, but you need to make sure that you don’t get too casual with your boss. Things like “lol” and “lmao,” for instance, should never come up in conversation with your boss (both verbally and via email or messenger), as they take the conversation from funny to just plain informal. “Often joking can take a personal turn, which is inappropriate with your boss,” says Masterson. “There is a fine line between socializing with your boss and overstepping.”
In conversations with your boss, abbreviations are completely off-limits. “They alienate conversations, cause interruptions, and create confusions, thereby causing immense frustration for a high authority position or boss,” explains Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of HR technology company Mettl.
“This customer is driving me insane.”
In sales, your most important job is to treat the customer with the utmost respect. Your job relies on the business of these customers—and while you might not always like them as people, it is important that you handle them professionally so as to prevent conflict.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain that without customers, there is no business and there is no job for the employee,” says Seb Dean, managing director at web design agency Imaginaire Digital. “I find it incredibly insulting when my staff are complaining about their clients and I think it’s something that needs to be nipped in the bud straight away. Otherwise the working environment can become toxic and adversarial with employees vs. customers—a headache that no business owner wants to deal with.”
Swear words of any kind.
No matter how angry you are, cursing just doesn’t belong in the workplace. And if you accidentally let a curse word slip in a conversation with your boss, they are going to think that you’re impulsive and can’t control your emotions. In a field where you are required to work directly with clients, this is a huge problem, because your boss needs to be able to trust you to stay professional.
“No offense, but…”
Any sentence that starts off like this is going to set off alarms in your boss’ mind. Why? “Trying to caveat everything shows a lack of confidence and fear to own responsibilities,” says Kapoor. “You must avoid including excessive caveats while talking to your boss as it indicates that you are unsure.” And if you’re struggling with your confidence, try these 50 Easy Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself.
“At my last job, I got in trouble all the time.”
Never bring any previous behavioral issues to your boss’ attention. Bringing these up will give your boss a bad impression, and they might even start to rethink their decision to hire you given the potential risks of your acting out again.
“Some people wrongly think that because they’ve moved on from their last job, they can say anything they want about their time there without any consequences, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Steve Prittchard, a human resources consultant at road marking company Anglo Liners. “If your boss finds out that you did something wrong at your old workplace, such as intentionally breaking the rules or lying to your old boss, they won’t be impressed. Rather, your boss will begin to worry that you might do something similar again while working at their company.”
“I hate you!”
Even if your boss is the absolute worst person in the world, you need to keep your personal feelings far away from the office. And if your problems with your boss do escalate, the best move is to take them up with HR, not tell your boss that you hate them.
“I’m just going to give this assignment the bare minimum and call it a day.”
If you want to make a good impression at work and see yourself rise in the ranks, you’ll want to give each and every assignment your all. What you won’t want to do is phone in your work and then proceed to tell your boss about said lack of work ethic.
“I hate Lucy—you should fire her.”
If you aren’t in charge of the hiring and firing process and your opinion hasn’t been solicited, then you shouldn’t be telling your boss who they should and shouldn’t dismiss. “No boss at any time will be happy to hear who should leave his or her team,” says Cristian Rennella, vice president of HR and co-founder of credit website oMelhorTrato.com. “Even if projects are delayed and the numbers are declining drastically, you should never tell your boss who to fire.”
“You are so ungrateful.”
Your boss doesn’t have to say “thank you” every time you complete a task for them. Your thanks comes in the form of having a job that pays the bills—and honestly, you shouldn’t (and don’t) have to be rewarded for doing your job.
“I totally lied during my interview.”
Lying during an interview is wrong in and of itself—but if for some reason you did fib, you’ll want to avoid letting your boss know. Not only will they be mad, but these falsehoods could be enough to give you the axe.
“Admitting that you lied during your interview will get you in big trouble,” says Prittchard. “Your contract will likely include a clause that will permit your boss to terminate it with immediate effect should they learn that you knowingly presented any false information during the hiring process. Even in a casual work environment, this is something that you need to keep to yourself.”
“Do you mind if I take a few months off from work?”
Everyone deserves to take some hard-earned time off from work, but a few months? Asking for that much time off signals to your boss that you don’t take your job seriously, and that you prioritize your personal life over your professional one.
“I am never working holidays. Ever.”
Giving your boss a definite “no” like this is going to set off red flags. Nobody wants to work holidays, but a good employee is willing to grin and bear a few extra hours for the sake of the team. If you just flat-out reject any future requests for overtime, your boss might dismiss you altogether and replace you with someone who’s more of a team player.
“Excessive use of slang indicates a casual and irresponsible attitude for the topic under discussion,” says Kapoor. “Words like ‘YOLO’ and ‘gotcha’ must be strictly avoided. Instead, trying to speak in a natural flair should be the goal to keep the conversation on the right track.” And if you have trouble finding things to talk about with the higher-ups, here’s How to Talk Golf with Your Boss.
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