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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Reputation-Ruining Phrases You Should Never Let Your Boss Hear You Say

If you want to get ahead at work, there are certain things you should steer clear of saying in the office. Even if what you’re saying is true (and everyone knows it!). Every time you want to lash out at an irritating manager or co-worker, take a breath and watch your words. Finding productive ways to work through your frustrations will put you that much closer to landing that promotion. Sometimes it’s as easy as walking away from the situation and taking a deep breath, other times it’s as hard as confronting the person professionally. (And sometimes it’s as fun as taking a coloring break.)

However, the answer is never to let your boss overhear you say these five things in your moments of frustration:

1. “That’s Not my Job”

Here’s the thing about your company—it’s (hopefully) always growing, expanding, and revising its goals as needed. And that means that you’re going to be asked to take on assignments that fall outside of your exact job description. Especially if you’re competent and able to handle everything that’s currently on your plate.

If you want to be seen as a team player (and someone who cares about his or her own career growth), you need to take on new responsibilities—even if it’s not entirely in your wheelhouse. Hey, you may learn a new skill and even find that you enjoy something you never thought you would.

However, if you’re literally unable to do the assigned task (because it’s accounting-based and you’re a marketing associate), you’re allowed to turn it down. The key here is to do it in a way that reminds your boss that it’s not your job for a reason (i.e., you genuinely don’t know how to balance the books), rather than simply whining.

Instead Say

“I’m more than willing to take on extra responsibilities, but I’m afraid that number-crunching is not my strong suit, and I don’t want to let you down. Is there another assignment you need help with? Or can I help you find another solution?”

It’s OK to be honest with your manager when it comes to this. In fact, he or she will probably appreciate it because, in the long run, you’re saving everyone a lot of wasted time and stress. The key here is for your message to be “I want what’s best for the team,” more than, “I’m not staying a minute past 6 PM tonight.”

2. “He’s Such a Jerk/Tool/Tyrant”

Fill in the blanks. We all have moments at work when we’re so incredibly annoyed at our boss, colleague, or client that we’re tempted to whine about the situation to anyone who will listen. Here’s the rub: Complaining in the workplace is not only unprofessional, but it’s also dangerous and bad PR for yourself.

You may think you can trust that cubicle mate with whom you eat lunch every day, but she may also think she can trust her friend in marketing not to repeat this gossip to anyone else. And before you know it, your venting confession’s going around the office like a game of telephone. By the time it gets back to that alleged tyrant, it’s escalated into something far worse than what you said.

Instead Say

“I really want to work together/for you, but when you [yell at me/don’t respond to me/criticize me in front of the team], it makes me feel demoralized and unvalued. What can I do to facilitate a more open line of communication?”

Rather than griping about your concerns behind the perpetrators’ backs, set up a meeting with the person in question to address the issues in a professional, clear, mature way. When you’ve had a bad day or someone has rubbed you the wrong way one time too many times, take a deep breath, try to calm down, and then have an honest conversation. If you really need to rant, do it later to someone who has nothing to do with your job.

3. [Grimace.]

So much of communication comes through not what we say, but rather our tone, body language, and delivery. I’ve all seen it: people rolling their eyes, making faces behind their boss’ back in a meeting when they hear something they don’t like, and sighing loudly when asked to do a lame assignment. Though you may think no one notices, it’s simply bad form, and there’s a pretty good chance that someone does.

Instead Do

[Poker face.]

Don’t make your dissatisfaction obvious to others. When a person is tense, nervous, angry, defensive, or disingenuous, those feelings are often broadcast to other people in the room—even if that person doesn’t know it. This sounds silly, but you can practice this “nonchalant” face in your mirror at home. Or, alternatively, you can take selfies and find out if your face reflects “I’m open and listening to what you’re saying” as much as you think it does.

4. “I Guess I’ll Just Stay Late—Again”

People aren’t mind readers, so you need to learn to say what you mean. Passive aggressively sighing and muttering to your boss that you have so much work to do isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Instead Say

“I appreciate the additional responsibility you’ve given me, but I’m trying to figure out how to get everything done within relatively normal working hours. Though I don’t mind staying late on occasion, it would help me to hear from you what projects take priority so I can tackle those first.”

Approaching it this way helps you to get clear direction from your supervisor—versus toiling away every night until you get bitter or burned out. Maybe your supervisor does know how many hours you’re putting in, but maybe he or she doesn’t and will be concerned to learn that you’re working until 9 PM every night. You won’t know until you address it like an adult.

5. “I Tried That Once and it Didn’t Work”

In her best-selling book, Basic Black: The Essential Guide to Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), former Hearst Magazines President Cathie Black tells of her frustration when she first arrived at the media company and repeatedly heard this refrain, which screams of a defeatist attitude.

Instead Say

“We’ve actually tried that in the past and it did not succeed. However, if we change variable X or variable Y, it might lead to better results. If it doesn’t work this time, let’s come up with another plan altogether.”

If you take another stab at it or explore another avenue, you may find that you’ll be successful the second time around. Or, as Black suggests in her book, ask yourself, “Why didn’t the idea work originally? What was the fallout, and what did we learn?” By remaining goal-oriented and opening yourself up to alternative routes to success, you’ll be a lot more fruitful.

Ultimately, it’s about maintaining a positive attitude—at least outwardly—if you’re aiming to win extra points with your boss and co-workers. Putting on a brave face, being a team player, and knowing what you should and shouldn’t say in front of your boss will help you develop a good reputation at work.

Photo of boss listening courtesy of Shutterstock.