Things you should never say to your boss - Daily Nation

Things you should never say to your boss

Friday March 15 2019



More by this Author

Life has many grey areas, and sometimes the difference between getting into trouble and not getting into trouble lies in how you say something.

The workplace is one such place where you have to be careful how you put your thoughts across, so you find yourself constantly rephrasing what you say and looking for alternative ways to put your point across.

The fact is that it is important to be lucid in your communication, especially when communicating upwards, while ensuring that you give a chance for the person listening to you to take you seriously and listen to you objectively.

If you want to get ahead at work, there are some things you should never say to your boss. Let’s jump right into it.


When your boss gives you an assignment, “I do not know” is not the answer to give him, (or her) when he calls you to his office three days later to ask for the results.

Saying “I don’t know” is unprofessional. If given a task that you do not understand, use all the resources at your disposal to deliver.

Does your task require help from the data desk, or IT or corporate affairs? Consult.

If you honestly do not know how to proceed with an assignment, ask follow up questions. Saying:

“I have consulted the data desk and these are the numbers that I found, but they do not seem to answer the questions you raised. I have also checked with analytics and the information is not helpful. Are there other areas you think I can explore?”

Is better than saying: “I do not know.”


There is that thing about learning on the job and the reality that there is a world of difference between what you learn in school and what your role at work demands of you.

Translation: we are learning the whole time.

While school equips us with mostly theoretical aspects of what is expected of us, at the workplace, we will need help translating that theory into practice, so if you are confronted with a difficult task, take it as a learning opportunity which will prepare you better for your future roles.

Instead of saying, “I am not trained in that area,” consider saying “That task is a little out of my scope and I will need a bit of help in form of training for good delivery.”


That is another tempting phrase to fall on when you feel that you are being overworked or maybe just feel disgruntled by one or two things at the work place.

Resist the urge to use that phrase, especially when speaking to your boss. Dear millennials, (I am a millennial too) freedom is not free – sorry to be the first one to burst your bubble.

The more freedom you have (to express yourself), the more responsibilities you are expected to bear. If you are sure that your concerns about being overworked are legitimate, instead of saying, “that is not in my job description,” instead say, “I am sorry, but taking on that task will delay my other projects.”


At this point in time, I cannot think of anything that is worse than insulting your boss, to his face.

Yes, calling someone a liar is an insult. Well, he may have legitimately miscommunicated something, but because we are not sure of what was lost in translation (heck! Maybe you zoned out when the instructions were being given and missed something), it pays to remain open to the possibility that you might be wrong just in case you have to swallow your words.

Forget your boss, even in your normal day-to-day interactions with people, you may need to steer clear of using absolutes in situations where there if no fool-proof evidence or a water-tight alibi to support your assertion.

“Saying I am sorry but the way I understood your point was…”

Is better than

“That is now what you said, you are lying.”


Jacquelyn Smith, a Forbes writer specialising in jobs and leadership, in her article: 13 Things You Should Never Say At Work (Quoting author Darlene Price in her book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results by Darlene Price), props the following as ways of auditing your communication and choice of words as you navigate the workplace:

Record yourself: When you’re on the phone in a business setting, record your side of the conversation and listen carefully to the recording afterward (on the way home from work).

Did you use any words or phrases that may be perceived as limiting or negative? Write down the phrase you used, mark through it, and beside it, construct an alternate phrase that more positively communicates your message

Enlist the help of a buddy: When you’re in meetings (and may not be able to record), ask a trusted co-worker who can be totally honest to listen carefully to your language. Ask him to write down any career-limiting words, phrases, actions or attitudes they perceive to be negative.

Listen for these phrases when others speak: When you hear how jeopardising these phrases actually sound when spoken by another, it sends a powerful message to your brain heightening your own self-awareness.