The Spade and the Barrow
(things one should not say to one’s boss)
“I have often repented speaking, but never of holding my tongue.”-Xenocrates
Like it or not, managers are people too. Just as the words they say can hurt an employee, cause irreparable damage actually, the words an employee says to his boss can be just as destructive. A wrong word said, especially if not followed by a sincere apology, can cause irreparable damage to an employee’s work status. It is a truth that what a person thinks eventually works its way out of his brain and finds an outlet in a tongue that wags or in the hands that do the work.
There is a delicate balance a manager must keep in dealing with his employees. A manager is constantly straddling this fine line between encouraging behavior and correcting it, between giving an employee ownership of a job while maintaining the traditional station of authority his job description requires, between stroking an employee’s ego to get even more out of them and correcting them in a way that knocks them down to size. This balance, to one degree or another, is disturbed constantly, not by the manager, but by the employee.
A worker that excels at a given function and knows it may at some point begin to believe he is untouchable and begin to verbally demonstrate this to his customers and coworkers. Of course, a good manager will pull the worker aside and remind him that while his technical skills are exemplary, his attendance leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, a worker who simply lacks confidence and would much better be able to take care of his customer if he had a little, may need to hear his boss stroke his ego a little to kick him into high gear. Sometimes this comes in the form of recognition or a complement that may not be altogether deserved. This may sound like manipulation on the part of the manager to you. In this case, you would be right. If this makes you angry or sick to your stomach, you’ll need to get over it. The core principle behind the existence of managers in the first place is the need to direct (manipulate) employee behavior to achieve a common goal – that goal is usually a satisfied customer. Of course there are sinister forms of manipulation too, so let me be perfectly clear. A manager who simply lets things unfold as they happen, without this manipulation or guidance, is not managing, he is resigning his position. A manager who manipulates circumstances for his own gain or to exert dominance over an employee is one of those soulless managers discussed in Chapter 1.
On the flip side to the manager’s tight rope walk of employee direction and communication is the employee who is expected to maintain the same boundaries between himself and his manager. An employee provided an opportunity to self-direct his work on a project or in his daily routine must, at all times, maintain the employer to employee structure of authority implied in their respective job descriptions. Obviously the prior actions of this high performing worker has led to his new found freedom. For that worker to then assume some form of authority over his manager, by word or deed, really amounts to a form of betrayal of that trust.
It is with great pleasure that I now present the Top 11 List of things one should not say to one’s boss. Or better yet, put away the spade and the barrow, the hole you’ve dug is deep enough.
11. “Are you out to get me?” or “Am I black listed?” – Paranoia is, as has been said, a good idea when everyone is out to get you. However, it’s kind of stupid when no one really is. The most striking aspect of someone asking this is the effect it has on the manager. They begin to ask themselves, “Is this guy a paranoid schizophrenic? Or does he just have a guilty conscience? Neither of these is good. Truth be told, I can see how a manager actually managing can be taken to be intrusive. A good manager will attempt to “pick apart” all aspects of the business to determine what is working well, and therefore does not need a lot of his attention; and what is not working well, which is going to attract a lot more of his scrutiny. If you want to be a good employee – do all the things required to be in the first category – the things that are working well.
10. “I don’t think I can work here” – no matter how you phrase it or what emotion you put to it a manager really hears, “I’ve already quit I am just waiting for you to fire me or for me to find a new job”. With very few exceptions, I have always terminated immediately upon hearing this from one of my employees.
9. “None of my coworkers trust me or they always make fun of me” – this statement is appropriate – if you are in the 3rd grade; inappropriate, though, for a full grown adult to say to their boss. The empathy one might expect from making a statement like this, immediately causes concern to a manager. If the entire organization doesn’t like you, the problem is, more than likely, you. This may be hard to hear for you but it is true. There is something that has caused the rest of the team to feel like you are not a part of them. It may be something as simple as a weird personality. However, even weirdness can be over come if you are always on time, always cheerful, always helping, and technically competent and reliable. Rarely is personality the only issue in this case.
8. “You can trust me boss…” – Uh huh. Short answer to this one: If you feel like you have to tell me – then I most likely, as a manager, have a problem on my hands. Show me you are trustworthy and I will trust you. Too many instances where it appears you may not be trustworthy, even if it is not an out and out lie, will make me not trust you.
7. “That’s not my job” – Technically, anything your boss asks you to do, if it is not illegal, dangerous, or immoral, is your job. Sometimes, your boss simply needs something done and he doesn’t have a lot of time to think about who should do it. Sometimes you will be the first one he comes across. Never utter these words to your boss, coworkers, or customers.
6) “My last manager didn’t do it that way” – Newsflash. Your new manager most likely doesn’t care what the last guy did. A good manager will ask how it has been done in the past, examine the validity of the decision, but then must formulate his own process. It is frustrating, I know, for an employee to change things under a new manager, but eventually one has to accept that a different manager is going to mean differences in the way he operates. A manager has precious little time to spend on recreating history what with monitoring all the attendance issues in the office.
5) “If you don’t do _________ I am out of here!”- see number 10 for guidance on this one. To a manager, you’ve already quit in your mind and you’ve quit on him. This statement is irretrievable and it demonstrates an attempt to subvert the manager’s authority.
4) “I didn’t get that email” – Its’ the 21st century. Unlike snail-mail, email is not lost by being torn to shreds by a postage sorter, it’s not rained on, dropped by the postman, misaddressed, or accidentally mailed to the wrong zip-code. Bottom line? Your boss should know your email address. Do not say you didn’t get the email, which implies it got lost. Emails, as a general rule, do not get lost. However, saying you didn’t get the email is a little better than telling him you deleted it because you can’t keep up with your email! If your boss feels the need to attach a Read Receipt to the emails he sends you there are only two possibilities in play. 1) If he attaches a receipt to every email he sends to everyone – he’s a psycho. Or 2) If he attaches the receipt only to the emails he sends you, most likely you’ve used the statement “I didn’t get that email” too many times.
2) “We need more help” – this may sound like an honest assessment of the work place and the team’s inability to get the work done. However, if this statement is translated into Manager-ese it sounds like this. “You are either mismanaging the department or have hired inefficient, incompetent people.” Be careful of answering the question of “what can I do to help you be more successful?” when your boss asks it, with the statement, “We need more help”. Here is generally the reality of this situation. Your manager is looking for ways to improve your efficiency and the quality and timeliness of your work. Hiring help for you is not efficient. Instead provide constructive information like this –
“I think it would help me if I had some training in Excel to help me track orders, or better yet, is there an automated way for me to track this information, etc.”
“I need this tool, which will help me do this, which will make me more efficient, because now I have to do it this way which takes much longer.”
“Can I reschedule some of this work to another period which will even out my workload? Right now I am getting slammed the first quarter of the month.”
Obviously, these are just generic examples but they can apply to almost any work done by anyone. The point is, ‘more people’ is almost never the right answer to productivity problems.
1) “No” – Don’t say it. Don’t think it. When your boss asks you to do something you do not like doing, just say no to “No”. With a little practice and forethought it is quite possible to say no without saying no. In fact, easy responses to a new assignment are easily made. Phrases like:
“Are you sure I am the person most capable of doing this?”
“I will be happy to do this for you, but I just want to let you know that I have these three things waiting for me. How would you like me to prioritize them?”
Here are your bullets for Chapter 2
• Let your actions, attitudes, and words demonstrate to your boss that you are comfortable operating under the authority his job description implies.
• Your words should be humble but confident. Praise others and let your boss praise you. Don’t take credit, let your performance, attitude, and the way you communicate speak for themselves.
• “That’s not my job” and “No” should be removed from your vocabulary – with your boss but especially with your customers and coworkers.
• Never give your boss an ultimatum, Never take away his opportunity to give you the credit, by taking it for yourself.
• If most everyone in your office gives you the cold shoulder…something is wrong….most likely, with you.
• Earn your bosses trust with every task you perform, every day, every week, all year long. If you have to assure your boss that you are trustworthy, most likely you are not.