The 3 Things You Should NEVER Say to a Manager

I can remember the first time I talked to my superior at my last position. I wanted to ask him about getting the proper authorization to view documents on SharePoint and was running through exactly how I wanted to phrase it: The please and thank you, the concise language, the ways that I could help myself if he just pointed me in the right direction. Yes, I really was that concerned about asking for access to SharePoint. Since that point I’ve learned that managers are just people, too. I’ve also learned that there are in fact things that are good to say to a manager, and things that are horrible to say to a manager. I’d like to share in this post the things that fall into the “bad” category of word choice.

  • I Always… – I learned early on that using absolutes is a bad idea in business. For one thing, it’s typically incorrect – nobody can always do something. Furthermore I think that using absolutes can result in painting yourself in a corner: if you are feeling put on the spot, let’s say, and tell your boss that “I always do XYZ on Fridays!” you’re going to look much worse if it turns out, in fact, that you forgot to do XYZ last Friday, right?
  • I don’t have any questions – I guess this really isn’t a phrase as much as an idea, but you should always have questions when getting new work or checking in, even if it’s just a simple “so, if I understand what you want me to do…” to repeat the task and make sure both of you are on the same page. Nobody in business likes someone who asks no questions – it makes managers nervous.
  • I can’t do that work because I’m busy – We all know there are limitations: time constraints, skill constraints, priority confusion. But something we all forget from time to time is that the work we get comes from our managers.

I have been guilty of initially refusing work because I had so much on my plate already I was scared of overloading. The first time this happened, my manager reminded me that they were the one assigning me the work, and put two of my projects on hold so I could start and finish the project they wanted to give me. That was a “duh” moment: work can be flexible if you give the right kind of communication to your manager. Instead of saying you can’t do additional work, explain what work you have currently and ask whether they want you to continue to do that work or focus on the new effort. This allows your manager to make the decision as to giving you a new assignment or keeping you on the current one. Overall, avoiding those three phrases can help you also avoid a lot of embarrassment and frustration. What phrases have you noticed cause more harm than good?

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