Finance Work Twelve things you should never say to your boss

Twelve things you should never say to your boss

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When gearing for a promotion or even establishing a good reputation at work, there are a few key phrases that should never slip from your tongue.

Some things are obvious, such as swearing, but the subtle variances between words can mean the difference between sounding confident or incompetent in the office.

For example using “I’ll try” instead of “I will” can convey messages of doubt about your quality of work that you don’t want your boss to hear.

Tina Monk, Career Counsellor and Coach from Sydney Career Coaching, says while it can be difficult speaking to a boss, employees must take care.

“These [words] are very subtle things, but they are very powerful,” she says.

Ms Monk says generally to keep work place chatter about work and away from your personal life, avoid sarcasm and get to know your bosses personality to know how best to approach them.

So here’s what to eliminate from your vocabulary at work.


The word “but” is a door closer says Ms Monk.

“If I say ‘but’ what do you expect will come next? Something negative – so why would you bother to say that.”

She says instead to use ‘and’ which can change an antagonistic, “That was useful, but this would be better,” to a constructive: “That was useful, and this would be good to do.”

I’m sorry, I’m sorry

newdaily_sorryOver-apologising needs to be avoided at all costs, says Ms Monk. Instead say “I didn’t get this done, because …” or let the person know early before any type of apology is needed.

Should (not)

You are better off not saying “should”or “must” in the office, as Ms Monk says it will automatically “get people’s backs up”. Replace those words with “could” or “will”.


“Using qualifiers like ‘I think’, ‘kind of’, ‘sort of’, ‘maybe’, shows a lack of confidence,” Ms Monk says. So be confident and stand by what you are saying, especially if approaching your boss.

Like, you know

If Ms Monk was your manager and you know, you, like, needed to explain something to her, you better watch your language. That means avoiding unnecessary and unprofessional add-ons like ‘you know’, ‘like’, ‘kind-of’ or ‘get what I mean?’.

I’ll try

Australian Leadership Foundation director Mark McCrindle says don’t “try” something that you “will” do as it puts doubt in the mind of the person asking you.

Say “I will” or “I’ll do it” instead of “I’ll try” or “I’ll give it a go”.

That’s not my problem

McCrindle says “push-back phrases” should be eliminated from any employees vernacular.

“Anything that is questioning, pushing back on the person in power, isn’t going to be job promoting,” Mr McCrindle says.

“Communicating the same sentiment by prefacing it with something like ‘you know I am committed to this job, however at this point I am finding it hard’ will open lines of communication.”

Also in this category include: “I’m not paid enough for this” and “That’s impossible”.

This is how we do it

When suggesting an idea to your boss, you need to tread with caution. Mr McCrindle warns not to be too presumptuous or demanding.

“Preface or communicate your idea in a context that acknowledges that ultimately the decision will be made by [your boss] – humble prefaces will create a more willing audience,” he says.

“So say something like ‘For what it’s worth I’ve been thinking about…’.”

Ms Monk agrees, but warns not to go so far as to not sound confident.

“You need to ascertain the best approach to your boss but I believe it is better to be slightly more confident and assertive rather than saying ‘I think’.”

But that’s not how we do it

Stop and think before you speak. Photo: Shutterstock
Stop and think before you speak. Photo: Shutterstock

“Any phrases to limit [an open] attitude or imply they don’t want innovation are a moral and innovation squasher,” Mr McCrindle says.

So don’t put a wet blanket on innovation, instead, if you think your bosses idea won’t work, offer your own experience on the matter and keep lines of communication open.

To be honest with you..

This phrase implies are you now only starting to be honest, so why do you have to profess that, says Mr McCrindle.

“Workplaces today are about candour and integrity, built on trust, so any phrase that clouds that isn’t great.”

Cliches have had their day

Mr McCrindle says the Australian Leadership Foundation’s research has shown clichés, especially Americanised phrases, are not taken well by employees and employers alike.

So ditch the ball park figures, give 110 per cent without saying so, think outside the square about ways to express your creativity and you’ll be on the fast track to a good relationship with your boss.

My God

Much like swearing, avoid using phrases or assertions about religion, gender or sex – even seemingly common things like “Oh my God”. Mr McCrindle says today’s work places are more conservative than the past so “ensure language is inclusive and isn’t going to offend”.

Also avoid:

Sarcasm, over-complimenting your boss (colloquially known as sucking-up) and Aussie rhyming slang.

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