Some statements are just too dangerous to be uttered in front of your manager.
Let’s say you’re one of the lucky ones — you work for someone you like, respect and admire. You socialize outside of the workplace. You’re comfortable. You even feel you can “say anything” to your boss.
But you know what? As warm as your relationship feels, it’s not an equal one. This person holds power over you, your paycheck and maybe your future employability. In particular, you really can’t “say anything” to any boss and some things you should definitely not say. Such as:
“That can’t be done.” OK, maybe your wonderful boss has just asked you to do something that truly cannot be accomplished. You’re only trying to be honest, right? But honesty doesn’t need to be so negative, or call into question the wisdom of your boss’s leadership, or make you look uncooperative and incapable. Instead, why not figure out what the boss is trying to ultimately achieve and then come up with some smart ideas for how to get there? That’s what bosses really want. Most of them don’t expect the impossible. They just want solutions.
“That’s not part of my job.” Again, you may only be trying to be honest. Many bosses, even the easygoing ones, may see it differently though. For example, they may believe they are the ones who decide on job descriptions. Besides, “that’s not my job” is way too close to “I don’t know how” or “I don’t want to” or “I’m not willing to pitch in for the good of all.” None of these statements reflect well on you. If you truly believe that someone else would do a better job with a particular task, say so clearly, emphasizing how this would benefit the company.
“You’re wrong.” All bosses are wrong at one point or another. But not one of them likes to be called out in such a confrontational way. Besides, at work the real issue is not who’s right and who’s wrong, but how to solve a particular problem. So give your boss a chance to save face by saying something diplomatic, like, “Well, I may be misinformed on this one, but I was under the impression that …” It costs you nothing and will earn you the goodwill, even gratitude, of the boss you love.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.