Maintaining a positive relationship with your manager is key to a productive, satisfying job. And the actions you take — completing your work on time, putting in extra effort when necessary, volunteering to assist with critical initiatives — can help strengthen this bond. However, in some cases, simple words can break it.
Here are eight phrases that make managers cringe, with explanations about why you should avoid using them in the workplace:
1. “Just a heads-up … I won’t be able to finish the project that’s due tomorrow.”
It’s important to notify your boss when a project is headed for trouble, but the time to do so is well before the situation has become critical. Sitting on a problem until just before the deadline can turn a bump in the road into a multicar pileup. Give your manager enough time to coordinate the help you need.
2. “That’s not in my job description.”
Economic conditions have greatly increased the value of IT professionals who can pitch in when and where they’re needed. Doing so isn’t just about sacrificing for the good of the team. Tackling problems outside your comfort zone also helps you build a well-rounded skill set that can open up opportunities throughout your career.
3. “So that’s what you wanted? Whoops!”
Similarly, when you don’t understand what’s expected of you, ask for clarification right away, rather than forging ahead in what may be the wrong direction. Asking questions at the outset of a new task or project can also demonstrate that you’re thinking strategically rather than just following directions. You might ask, for example, “Should I also run tests on X and Y to see if they’re related to that problem?”
4. “Dave’s being a jerk. Make him stop.”
Exhaust your other options before appealing to your manager for help with minor interpersonal difficulties. If a colleague isn’t returning your e-mail requests, have you tried following up by phone or in person? On the other hand, note that any serious breaches of acceptable office behavior should be immediately brought to your manager’s attention.
5. “I hate to say this, but it was all Tom’s fault.”
Leave the performance evaluations to your manager. In the wake of an unsuccessful project, focus on suggesting ways to improve future results rather than assigning blame. Providing unsolicited assessments of a colleague’s performance doesn’t inspire confidence in your ability to work with others.
6. “Will you be my Facebook friend?”
Inviting your boss into your social media network is often a no-win proposition. Even the “best-case scenario” — in which your boss happily joins your network — can have disastrous consequences if sensitive personal details spill into your professional life. At the same time, keep in mind that your boss may also prefer to establish a boundary between home and office; nearly half of executives surveyed by our company said they are uncomfortable being friended by the employees they manage.
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7. “I didn’t think you needed to know.”
Even supervisors who take a hands-off approach to managing appreciate being kept in the loop about the status of important engagements or resource needs. So when in doubt about whether to raise an issue, put yourself in your boss’s shoes: Would you want to know about it? Will raising it help your team meet its objectives? Even telling your boss that a project is running smoothly can be helpful, since it lets him or her know you’ve got everything under control.
8. “Surprise! I’m outta here.”
Replacing a productive team member is expensive and time-consuming. In fact, keeping such workers on board is probably one of your manager’s key imperatives. Instead of blindsiding your boss once you’ve decided to leave, discuss any concerns that may cause you to look for other employment opportunities as they emerge. He or she may be able to address the issue and improve your on-the-job satisfaction. Being open about such things also alerts your boss to problems that may be dragging down the whole team, not just you.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support.