You can’t always be walking on eggshells when you talk to your manager.
That being said, there are certain conversational landmines you should steer clear of. You don’t want to derail the whole talk — or your relationship — just by choosing your words poorly.
Business Insider reached out to managers and career experts to find out which phrases are best to avoid in conversations with your boss.
Here are 11 phrases you might want to avoid:
1. ‘That can’t be done’
“Hands down, my No. 1 pet peeve phrase, to the point where it literally makes my face turn red when I hear it, is: ‘We can’t do that,’ or ‘That can’t be done,'” says Pete Lamson, CEO of recruiting software service JazzHR. “As an organisation, we can accomplish whatever we put our minds and effort toward. There is what we do, and what we choose to not do.”
Dan Veltri, co-founder and CPO of website creation platform Weebly says that it’s better to demonstrate a “solution-first mindset” to your boss.
“Often, when you take on the mindset that something is possible, and truly think about the ways to accomplish it, then the solution becomes clear,” Veltri says. “The result is then a creative solution to a complicated problem, which is the key to continued innovation.”
2. ‘We’ve always done it this way’
Jim Whitehurst, CEO of software company Red Hat, says that he wants his employees to engage in open dialogue. Still, this phrase is one thing he really doesn’t like to hear.
“The phrase stands in stark contrast to core Red Hat values of accountability, transparency, and community and the collaborative and open culture we aim to foster throughout the company,” he says.
3. ‘If I don’t get a raise, then I’ll quit’
“It’s unacceptable to threaten your employer even though you may feel like, ‘Well, I’ll show them,'” says Monster career expert Vicki Salemi. “It sounds a little bit bratty. And technically, it may backfire. Your boss may think, ‘OK, there’s the door.'”
4. ‘I have decided to take another job because I’m unhappy here’
“A manager never wants to hear their direct report state, ‘I have decided to take another job. I have been unhappy with my role for months and did not see a future for myself. I didn’t want to bring up my dissatisfaction with you and I know this puts you in a difficult spot,'” says Jaqueline Breslin, director of human capital services for HR firm TriNet.
“Not giving the manager the opportunity to correct the problem or assist the employee with finding a new role within the organisation is incredibly difficult,” she continued.
Paul McDonald, senior executive director at staffing agency Robert Half, agrees that it’s important to give your boss a chance to make things right before you quit.
“Often, the first time a manager knows the employee is unhappy is when he or she resigns,” McDonald says. “By then it’s too late to do anything about it. In these cases, most managers wish the employee had approached them sooner. Or, the managers wish they had had more frequent, one-on-one dialogue with the employee.”
5. ‘I’m so hungover’
“Your workplace is an office, not a frat house,” Salemi says. “Even if you’re dragging on a Friday morning, and even if you have a close relationship with your boss, they’re still your supervisor and you still need to professional. Even if you’re lagging and not as quick on the uptake, you don’t need to state an excuse. Or if you feel like you do, just say you’re feeling sluggish. No need to get into details.”
6. ‘What should I do?’
When you approach your boss with a problem, McDonald says that it’s usually not a good idea to sound like you don’t know what you’re doing.
“I prefer that people tell me how they are managing or dealing with a problem versus being asked to solve it,” he says. “Come to me and state the problem along with one or two potential solutions. Tell me which one you recommend and ask me for my opinion.”
“The problem with this question is that inspires decision fatigue, which is increasingly an issue as you move up the managerial hierarchy,” says David Olk, CEO of professional development platform Voray. “It also shows limited ownership. Instead, this question should be replaced with ‘Here’s what I think we should do about this — what do you think?’ Give me solutions, not problems.”
7. ‘We didn’t meet our goals because …’
Excuses won’t get you anywhere.
“This sentence is usually comes most often from sales and ends with a list of excuses whether it’s product, support, the weather in our case with seasonality, and an endless list of excuses,” says CEO of booking platform TripActions Ariel Cohen.
8. ‘I’m bored’
“A manager may equate ‘bored’ with unproductive and uninspired — sending up a warning flag that you’re dragging morale down for the whole team,” McDonald says. “If you want a fresh challenge say so — and be positive and proactive in your communication. Volunteer to take on a new project or suggest an improvement that would grow business or drive efficiencies. Offer to train a newer employee on the tasks you’ve mastered. Just saying you’re bored can come across as unprofessional — and puts the problem on your boss’ plate to solve.”
9. ‘I don’t want to work with him/her’
“Personal conflict is a reality in every workplace, but it’s unacceptable to tell your boss that you cannot work with someone in the organisation without having worked very hard at trying to resolve the conflict first,” Heide Abelli, vice president of business skills and leadership at cloud-based learning site Skillsoft says. “While a boss may be well aware that there is tension between two of her direct reports, he or she expects that the two individuals will work hard to resolve the conflict without him or her needing to constantly mediate, run interference or discuss the issue with HR. Bosses are not eager to resolve interpersonal problems between employees.”
If you’re having a serious issue with harassment in the workplace, go to HR. But if it’s merely a matter of not liking your coworker, don’t rely on your boss to play referee.
“This puts leaders in a tough position,” says Andy Bailey, CEO of business coaching firm Petra Coach. “Are you giving an ultimatum that ‘It’s that person or me?’ If you do that, you put yourself in danger of being out of a job. Instead, employees should make this an opportunity for communication. Take the time to learn about about the people you work with — personally and professionally. You can work with (almost) anybody if you learn to communicate effectively. Don’t put that on your boss.”
10. ‘Oh man, this is going to be so much work’
No one wants to have a complainer for an employee.
“One of the worst things I’ve heard from an employee recently was, ‘Oh God, this is going to be so much work’ as I explained a project and the expected deliverables,” says Aubrey Quinn, vice president of communications firm Clyde Group. “Statements like this are infuriating because yes, it’s going to be work, but this is your job and you get paid a salary to do this work. I expect to see and hear positive attitudes from my team, rather than complaints about what needs to happen in order to get the job done. It would be better to vent thoughts like that to your coworkers instead of your manager.”
11. ‘That’s not my job’
If you really want to put your boss in bad mood, when they ask you to do something, respond with, “That’s not my job.”
“Even when it’s not your job, bosses don’t want to hear it stated that bluntly,” Salemi says. “You may be overworked and trying to establish boundaries as more and more work gets dropped on your desk, but it’s still unacceptable from a management perspective. It sounds whiny, like you’re not a team player and not flexible, and like you just don’t care about doing a good job in general.”
Zbigniew Barwicz, CEO of dubdub, a mobile video creation platform, says that even if a task isn’t part of your job, keep an open mind.
“It’s important to work as a team and balance each other out to become a stronger and more well rounded company,” Barwicz says. “I’m a strong believer in everyone working together for a common goal and think it’s important for our employees to be able to roll up their sleeves and hit the trenches even if it might be slightly different than what your day to day tasks are.”
“Bosses don’t care if something doesn’t fall within your job description,” says Fingerpaint Marketing founder Ed Mitzen. “We need team players that will do what is needed for the greater good of the company. And great leaders will lead by example. If you see us delivering a package to someone’s office or cleaning up the break room, expect us to react poorly if we see employees complaining about being asked to do the same. Leave your ego at the door.”
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