What not to say to your boss

 Posted on: 4 May 2015    Business

Two managers having conversationI used to work for a radio station when I started my professional journalism and broadcasting career.  I was a young, very high-performing person. At the station I had a disciplinarian for a boss. Every morning, as I passed by his office running down to the studio to do my broadcasts, he would look down at his watch and shake his head disapprovingly. Even though I was generating huge sales numbers and high listenership targets, I got increasingly frustrated by his looking down at that watch, his complaints to me, and his lack of positive recognition about my sales accomplishments. So one day, after running past his office again at 8:05am, just 5 minutes late for my program, and seeing him look down at that watch again, I marched right into his office and told him to leave me alone.

I got sent home that day by my boss. We eventually mended things, and came to an understanding about how important punctuality was to him, and how important positive feedback was to me. But our relationship was never totally mended.

Twenty-five years later, now I am a boss, and after several managerial jobs in the media industry, I have had my share of interesting things said to me. I believe all leaders and managers should try to keep an open mind and encourage open communication from all of their reports. Still, perhaps there are some things better left unsaid to your bosses.

I searched out the internet whether I was the only one with that kind of attitude and reaction over my bosses, and explored why people get stressed out at work wondering, not on what, but rather when to “tell that manager a piece of my mind”. Here are some of the things I found out about what not to say to your bosses, and as you will see in the next passages, what it takes for some employees to be promoted and others not.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) of USA interviewed seventeen bosses of young bosses on what their experiences were with the worst thing they’d ever been told by an unhappy or disgruntled employee. Here are their answers, or what not to say to your boss, followed by my own personal answers to the question:

  1. ‘I Am Just Here for the Money’

That is quite a dangerous statement to make. In China, it is very common for a lot of employees to work just for the money and for very long with one organisation. This means such people will leave if the company fail to give them a raise or if their peers start to make a lot more money than they do. Companies tend to hear about this from the “grapevine”. Bosses do not appreciate such kind of utterances that one is only just doing the job for the money. “Such an employee we will let them go very quickly”

  1. ‘You Never Told Me to Do It’

When something important doesn’t get done, the worst thing you can say is, “You never asked me to do it.” There are few better ways to overlook yourself for that promotion, a raise, or even job security.

  1. ‘There’s Something Wrong’

It’s easy to complain about what’s wrong. It’s hard to come up with solutions to fix the problem. Be a problem solver, not problem-spotter, and one should take this advice to heart in everyday life. If you see a problem, don’t address the situation with what’s wrong; address the situation with an answer. If you don’t have a real solution, wait until you do.

  1. ‘I Want to Do What’s Easiest’                                                                                                   

An employee who literally shocks the employer by telling them that he/she would rather do a particularly menial task than the task that the employer had assigned because it would be easier. This is the most explicit way to alert your boss that you do not care about improving your skill set without directly telling him. Never do this if you care about your career!

  1. ‘That Takes Up Too Much Time’

There’s nothing worse than an employee who complains about the amount of time required to move or move things in the company to the next level.

  1. ‘I Could Be Doing Other Things’

Do not complain about your job. If you hate it, quit. If there’s something wrong with it, find a way to fix it. If someone or something is really ticking you off, don’t project your anger onto others, especially not your employer. If it’s a good job, be grateful for it. If you want more out of your job, make it happen. Be diplomatic about it and make it your dream job, or leave.

  1. ‘I Promise to Do That’

Do not get in the habit of telling your boss you’re able to do something if you know you may not be able to deliver. It is better to be honest, ask for advice and have a proactive attitude. If you fail to deliver, then it has negative repercussions for the business, which is taken much more seriously.

  1. ‘It’s Too Difficult’

One of my advisors here has a quote: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” We won’t win if we don’t think big.

  1. ‘I Agree to Disagree’

Whether it is said explicitly or passive-aggressively, this mindset has no place in start-up culture. Those who have this mindset should either found their own enterprise or go work in a big corporate where this goes unnoticed. At a small enterprise level operation, you’re either all the way in or all the way out.\\

  1. ‘I Don’t Have an Opinion’

The people who just sit and nod their heads are the ones who are expendable. If you want to make an impression as a valuable member of the team, offer your insights. No one ever agrees with his boss 100 percent all the time, so make your opinion known if you have something worth saying.

  1. ‘I Can’t’

The worst excuse ever an employee can say to their employer.  Employers like to hire “can-do” people with positive, creative attitudes. Can-do people have passion, drive and determination.

  1. ‘I am Not Optimistic’

The most important thing for any team member is to stay optimistic. Being a pessimist and doubting the future of the company is a real downer. There is nothing wrong with being realistic; however, people who are melancholy suck the life out of an early-stage company and every staff member they come into contact with, and cannot last long.

  1. ‘I have knocked off or It is time for me to go now’

There is nothing more discouraging to an entrepreneur than when an employee says he is not willing to go the extra mile because he isn’t “clocked in.” Good employees show they are in control of own careers. Acting within the status quo never gets you to the top!

  1. ‘That’s Not My Responsibility’

It’s critical that everyone feels invested in the success of all areas of the business. Everyone should be willing to pitch in, even if what’s required isn’t part of their normal day-to-day activities.

  1. ‘That’s Not My Job’

Your responsibilities are not limited to what was listed in your original job description — especially at a start-up company. Unless your boss is asking you to do something illegal or unethical, you should do it.

  1. ‘I Don’t Like Working for Other People’

In South Africa they say: “Ag shame lovey” – pity on you.  An employee actually told me that he didn’t like working for other people. That person doesn’t work for me anymore!

  1. ‘I don’t like Working Hard’

I never want to know that someone who works for me isn’t working hard. People can disagree with me, and I’m fine to hear criticism. I’ll never lose respect for anyone because he disagrees with me or because they failed. I don’t want to know if someone is giving less than their best effort or that someone lied. I have high expectations of people when it comes to their work ethic.

In employee – manager relations, honesty is as important as it is anywhere; the one thing I think you should never say to your boss is a lieAlways tell the truth to your boss, and never tell a lie. Lies are too risky – not only to your relationship with your boss, but to your relationship with yourself.

I can actually handle most of the above if not all of them, even encourage, most of the statements above being said to me, because as long as they’re honest, they’ll help me build a better company and help my employees find their place, either at one of my companies or elsewhere. As the employer or manager, I’d rather know what people really think, so I encourage people to feel comfortable saying anything to me.

Now it’s your turn. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to your boss? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever been told at work? What do you think the worst thing someone can say to a manager is? Which of the above statements do you agree with, and disagree with? Please let me know in the Comments section.

But there’s a much better approach. The key to advancing is based on what you should be.

Attitude informs action. Attitude informs behaviour.  Attitude is everything.


Written by Caleb Thondhlana



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