Five Things to Never Say to Your Boss

If you ever want to get leaders talking, ask them if they have any current employee issues.

Dealing with the constant strain of needs, conflicts and ambitions of others is a never-ending mental and physical endurance test. Even the best leaders, those equanimous, empathetic, uplifting paragons, still find themselves struggling to balance the demands of the individual versus those of the collective. Many new leaders find themselves quickly weighed down by the employee management side of the job, and adopt a stance of world-weariness and cynicism. Or as Bruce Springsteen so aptly put it, “you have to learn to live with what you can’t rise above.”

Employee issues keep coaches like me in business. These conversations always come up, and seem to be the troubles that plague leaders the most. We’re social animals after all, as David Brooks so recently reminded us. We care deeply about those around us, and want to be liked and respected. We want to do the right thing for and by others.

I write about leadership both here and for Entrepreneur.com, speaking directly to the leaders with advice and suggestions.

Not today.

For this blog, I’m speaking to all you employees out there. I want to save you the barely concealed rolled eyes and frustrated responses from your boss across the desk. (Plus, help you get what you really want.)

Here are five employee statements that come up over, and over, and over again. I hear these in coaching, from friends and colleagues, and from the dozens of employees of my own over the years. When you say these words, you are not doing yourself a favor.

1 . I have too much on my plate.

We all have too much on our plates. When you make this complaint to your boss, she’s thinking, join the club! Plus it suggests you can’t handle stress or are prone to whining. If you fear your work is going to suffer, bring your manager a suggestion to lessen your work burden through better prioritization, a shift in deadlines or a short-term consultant recommendation.

2. I need to earn more money.

Nothing riles a manager up like asking for a raise with no justification. It doesn’t matter that your mortgage arm kicked in, or you’re getting married, or your kids started private school. Those are your issues based on your choices, not your company’s. If you want more money, come to your boss with a business case for why you deserve it, based on your output. Don’t make him feel like his back is against the wall. Request it, and give the idea some time to marinate.

3. I don’t have anyone on my team I can delegate to.

I heard this one just again the other day from an employee actually trying to get promoted to a more senior position! As a manager of any size group, it’s your  job  to create a team to which you CAN delegate. So if that’s not happening, the onus is on you to fix it.  Telling your boss you don’t have strong resources underneath you is admitting that you’re not a good manager. (Not a good promotion strategy.)

4. I meant to have that done, but didn’t get to it.

Reliability is instrumental to building trust, which is critical to your career success. Telling your manager that you dropped the ball — after the fact — destroys her confidence in you to be a reliable performer. It also carries an air of deceptiveness to be kept in the dark about something you both knew was due. We all get behind on deadlines. If you want to preserve trust, and even increase it, let your manager know way ahead of time that you’ll be late to deliver, and renegotiate a new commitment. Note: The earlier in the process the better.

5. Everyone is unhappy/worried/stressed out here.

This type of comment usually comes from the right place — an employee is trying to share important cultural knowledge about the organization to fix a problem. However, it’s received as unconstructive hyperbole that tends to result in a fight or flight response. (“Let’s gather everyone together for a big culture meeting ASAP!” or “I can’t even deal with this.”) Remember that rarely is EVERYONE anything, even if it feels that way to you. Instead, provide discrete sentiments that you have personally observed and pinpoint the group down as much as possible. i.e. Front line managers are struggling to keep people rallied after the staff cuts. Your boss cares, and needs to have information presented in a way that helps him investigate and address the core issue.

Readers, have any more advice to employees? Your own pet peeves? Share them here or @kristihedges.

Coming soon, five things to always say to your boss…

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About kristihedges
Executive coach, leadership development consultant, Forbes.com blogger, Entrepreneur.com contributor, author of Power of Presence (AMACOM).

6 Responses to Five Things to Never Say to Your Boss

  1. I can’t believe anyone would be short-sighted enough to say any of these things to anyone in the food chain, let alone the boss. Think them sure, but say them? #3 is my fave.

  2. ireneyachan says:

    Thanks for the great post! As I read through it, I found myself thinking to myself “ok, never said this one.. not this one either.” Phew!! I hear #4 almost every week. It never cease to amaze me why people would say that out loud.

  3. kristihedges says:

    I hear ya! Part of me hopes that this might get passed around and finally put an end to a few of these comments. They don’t help anyone! Thanks for the comment.

  4. Pingback: Five Things to Always Say to Your Boss « Communicate Leadership.

  5. Excellent insight for employees; I have heard (and been appalled by) some version of every one of these. I can honestly say I have never said any of them to a boss (although I no doubt uttered the last one to many other people from time to time). It will be interesting in my new role to see if I hear any of these from the other side!

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