Your relationship with your boss is a unique one. Maybe your manager is very friendly and acts like your BFF. Maybe he or she is more like a drill sergeant, more interested in keeping things in line than making friends.
Either way, there are certain words and phrases you should avoid with bosses and managers if you hope to get ahead. These rules apply to everyone from shop clerks and warehouse employees all the way up to VPs and C-level executives. Because words matter, especially when talking to your superior at work.
Try to avoid saying:
- Maybe, soon, possibly
These are hedging words, meaning you’re not taking a direct stand on something. If your boss asks you a direct question, give him or her a direct answer. Managers like employees who are decisive.
- My bad.
First of all, what are you, 12? This kind of language says that you know the boss wants you to admit you made a mistake, but you don’t think it was a very big deal. Here’s a hint: If your boss thinks it was a big deal, you should too.
- That’s not fair.
Even if a situation isn’t fair, saying so makes you come off sounding like a petulant child. Find a different way to bring up your objection.
- Everybody and nobody.
These are generalizing words that get thrown around so much that they don’t mean anything. Does everybody in your industry really do that thing? Be specific rather than making broad generalizations.
- That’s not my job.
Another important hint: 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. If you are consistently given tasks that aren’t in the scope of your job description, it may be time to have a conversation with the boss or look for another job.
- You didn’t do…
Starting sentences like this with “you” immediately gives off a blaming tone. “You didn’t give me clear instructions,” is much more confrontational than, “I didn’t understand your instructions.” Try starting your statements with “I” instead of “you.” This also works when talking to your boss about your coworkers. Instead of, “Susan didn’t complete the report,” you could say, “I had trouble doing my part because the report was incomplete.”
- I can’t work with Susan….
Or Joe, or anyone else on your team. Interpersonal problems are just that: interpersonal. You can ask your boss to help mediate a tough situation, but you don’t want to make it sound like an ultimatum, as in, “If she doesn’t go, I do…”
- I just booked my plane tickets!
It’s never a good idea to book a trip without first asking for the time off. It makes you seem entitled. Managers are much more likely to feel good about granting your vacation request if it’s actually couched as a request.
- I’ll try.
Saying that you’ll try indicates the possibility of failure. Take Yoda’s advice: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
- He’s a jerk, she’s lazy, and other gossip.
It’s not a good idea to gossip with your boss, even if he or she initiates it. If you say things like this to your boss unprompted, it could be libel and a termination offence. If your boss wants to gossip with you, try answering non-committally and changing the subject.
Of course, these are just my top 10; there are plenty of other words and phrases that should probably be on a no fly list around your boss. What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.