Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

50 Things You Should Never (EVER) Say to Your Boss

By James Ball | Jul 27, 2016 | Candidate Tips

retro man making silence gesture shhh. Pop art vector, realistic hand drawn illustration.We always go on about the importance of honesty in the workplace.

And we stick by it; having an open line of communication between yourself and your manager will help you both to be more efficient, more productive and happier in the long run.

However, as with all honesty, there is a line that should never be crossed.  And there are certain things that you should just never say to your boss!

Here are fifty of them…

The Blame Game

It may not be your fault when something goes wrong at work, but there is just no need to be a tattle-tail…

  1. “It’s not my fault.”
  2. “But Jack told me to.”
  3. “But YOU told me to.”
  4. “Well if you had just done this instead, like I said…”
  5. “I told you so.”

Instead of trying to pass the buck, take ownership of the situation and show how you’re going to resolve it.

And always use positive and subtle phrasing like “there seems to have been some sort of miscommunication, but no worries, we’re in the process of fixing it.”

Most (good) managers will know exactly where the blame lies and will applaud your proactivity and willingness to pitch in (and the fact that you’re not a huge tattle-tail).

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

The same goes for all of those annoying excuses you might be tempted to use…

  1. “No one would help me.”
  2. “It’s because I’m new.”
  3. “We’re so busy; things are bound to go wrong.”
  4. “I’ve got some stuff going on at home.”
  5. “I’ve not been shown how to do this.”

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, it’s inevitable and you (probably) won’t get sacked for admitting that – if you are proactively seeking a solution.

And if you’re really not sure how to do something, find out, before taking any action.

The Work Shirk

Your boss needs someone who’s willing to take on new responsibilities, pitch in and adapt the way they work to support the team.

What they don’t want to hear are negative phrases like…

  1. “That’s not my job.”
  2. “They’re not my client.”
  3. “Why should I do that?”
  4. “You didn’t hire me for this.”
  5. “I did NOT become a {job role} to do {a menial job}.”
  6. “No.”
  7. “I’ll do X if you do Y.”

These phrases imply that you couldn’t give two hoots about the company, that you’re selfish and lazy and/or that you’re not willing to work as part of a team.

The Defeatist

Giving up before you’ve even started is NOT an attractive quality in an employee.

Stop saying things like…

  1. “I don’t know how to…”
  2. “I can’t.”
  3. “That’s impossible.”

I said it earlier but I’ll say it again; come up with solutions, not problems!

Who would you hire? The doer or the defeatist?

The Know-It-All

You’ve probably seen this person lurking around an office at some point; criticising everything anyone does, but not actually giving any advice on how to do things better…

  1. “That’s not how we used to do it at my last company.”
  2. “That didn’t work last time.”
  3. “Ooh I wouldn’t do it that way.”
  4. “I was always taught to do it like this…”
  5. “My old boss would never do it like that.”

If you haven’t got anything constructive to say, then don’t say anything at all.

And if you do, then deliver it in a sensitive, professional way, without stepping on your boss’s (or anyone else’s) toes.

The (Nasty) Office Gossip

Your boss certainly isn’t going to appreciate bitchiness, gossip and nastiness in your office (I am aiming this at both men and women – you know who you are).

It will bring down the entire atmosphere and has a real impact on productivity, morale and customer service too.

  1. “Did you hear about Jack’s…?”
  2. “I don’t think anyone really likes Jane.”
  3. “I don’t understand how Jack got the job.”
  4. “Why does Jane always..?”
  5. “They won’t last long.”
  6. “Have you seen Jack’s shirt?”
  7. “She absolutely stinks.”
  8. “I think he’s a bit stupid.”
  9. “She’s just a lot slower than everyone else.”

Why would your boss want the hassle and blatant negativity?

In general, any offensive remark, no matter how close you are to your manager, is inappropriate, unprofessional and plain nasty.

Besides, do you really want to be the office bully, anyway? And if so, why?

(If your boss is the one who’s the bully – click here for some tips on how to deal with them!)

Snide Remarks

There’s a subtle difference between the office gossip and the snide remarker – but both are as bad as each other.

The snide remarker is much more devious, saying little ‘innocent’ things that make others feel uncomfortable, undermined and undervalued.

It’s not big, it’s not clever and chances are your boss knows exactly what you’re up to.

  1. “I think he struggles with that, so I’ll just do it.”
  2. “Don’t worry – I’ll keep an eye on her.”
  3. “Do you really think he’s the best person to be doing that?”
  4. “Perhaps I should give it a go and see if the results improve?”
  5. “She lacks the experience that I have.”
  6. “We just clash”

And even if your boss doesn’t notice, someone else will and eventually it will come to bite you on the bum.

Overstepping The Mark

One big, sure-fire way to get straight into your boss’s bad books?

Just go over their head…

  1. “Perhaps it’s better if I speak to Julie (your boss’s senior)?”
  2. “Is there anyone else who might have more expertise in this area?”
  3. “I think this might be above your pay-scale…”
  4. “Oh, well I’ve already spoken to Julie about all of this and she agrees with me.”
  5. “I know you said no… but Julie’s ok’d it.”

This kind of behaviour will undermine and embarrasses your boss.

Always be respectful and let your boss decide when it’s time to get in contact with someone senior. At the end of the day, the buck stops with them.


Always remember that your boss, no matter how close you are, is still your boss.

All of those inappropriate things you might whisper to co-workers just won’t fly…

  1. “They’re SO hot.”
  2. “I’m so hungover.”
  3. “They are such a d*ck.”
  4. “Would you ever date an employee? *wink wink*”
  5. “I have had the most unproductive day.”

As a friend, they may not care about your antics, but when it comes to promoting you to a position of a power, their neck is on the line.

They may not want to risk it if they know too much about you!

Recognise any of these phrases?

It is really important to remember that no matter how lovely your boss is, they are your superior and they do have the power to affect your working life.

You should choose what you do and say around them wisely.

Recruiter Pro Tip

Sometimes it can be really (really) difficult NOT to speak up – especially if you have a bad manager (like this lot) who bullies other people or is lazy and/or incompetent.

In this case, I would recommend two routes:

  • Make a formal complaint. It won’t be particularly pretty and you might end up having a rough relationship if they stay on afterwards, but their behaviour should improve. Click here for more advice on complaining about your boss.
  • Look for a new job! Of course, if your company is small, tight-knit and doesn’t have the right HR processes in place, complaints are much harder. So perhaps you should consider finding a new company? Life’s too short to hate your job.

To read some of the other main reasons you should consider leaving your current job – click here.

Or if you’d like more top careers advice, click here and subscribe to our Candidate Tips blog! We’ll send a short weekly email with our latest blog post for your perusal.

Good luck!

- James Ball

James Ball

James is the founder and owner of Coburg Banks and a recruitment expert from Sutton Coldfield in the UK.  He regularly advises companies on how to improve and get the maximum ROI from their recruitment processes.

> More blog posts by James Ball

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