“I was talking with Beth about the new team you started and I offered to volunteer my time. She’s excited that I can help!”
Yes, you want your boss to know you’re working hard, but the only person who should dictate how you allocate your time is your boss—not you. “Never tackle any new initiatives without getting your boss’s permission first,” says career expert Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com, an online job database and resource. If you regularly find yourself with office downtime, ask your boss for more responsibility—but let her decide what your new responsibilities will be.
“I secured paramount lodging for the symposium.”
Don’t pick up the thesaurus every time you need to email your boss a simple memo. Instead of trying to impress her with big, overly formal words, keep your language short and concise: “I booked your hotel room for the conference.” “Save your landed gentry language for your fellow Jane Austen fans,” suggests executive coach Ellen Lubin-Sherman, author of The Essentials of Fabulous. Fancy words won’t impress your boss if she has no idea what you’re talking about.
“My four kids are each playing three sports and I’ve been asked to coach their teams.”
There are two things wrong with this statement: First, your boss probably isn’t interested in what you do outside the office—never mind what your husband and kids are up to, says Lubin-Sherman. And with your attempt to be familial, you’ve just alerted your boss to the fact that you won’t be able to work late when the need arises. Keep your after-work plans to yourself—especially if they have to do with last night’s party and the condition it left you in. “Remember, your boss is not your BFF, mother or therapist,” says Nicole Williams, connection director at the online professional network LinkedIn. If something’s distracting you to the point that it will interfere with your productivity, take a personal day.
“It was nothing.” or “It’s no big deal.”
When your boss calls out your achievements, don’t downplay the hard work that was behind them. Women are often taught not to self-promote, so “many of us are uncomfortable taking full credit for our work,” says career expert Jocelyn Giangrande. But when you’re not able to accept compliments, you’re doing yourself (and your career!) a disservice. “If you don’t think your accomplishments are a big deal, no one else will, either,” says Giangrande. You don’t need to toot your own horn, but at least learn to smile and say “Thank you.”
“Some people around here are online shopping during the workday.”
“Nobody likes a snitch or a rat,” says Lubin-Sherman. “Focus on being fabulous at what you do.” If you’ve noticed your coworkers taking two-hour lunch breaks or constantly checking in on their online auctions, trust that your boss knows what’s going on, too. Instead of pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong, make sure to check in with your boss when you finish a project or beat a deadline so she knows what you’re doing right.
“Well, I emailed you about _____.”
If your boss didn’t read your email, consider it your problem. “Most people feel like when they hit the ‘Send’ button, they no longer hold responsibility,” says marketing expert Lorrie Thomas Ross. “It’s on the recipient to magically read everything and comprehend it.” If your boss doesn’t reply to an email you need feedback on, politely follow-up to ensure she received it. Also, keep in mind that email is fine for basic communication, but if you need to relay important or time-sensitive information, pick up the phone—or better yet, walk down the hall and tell your boss in person.
“Why did Sharon get a promotion instead of me?”
“The answer to this question is none of your business,” says career coach Jean Baur. Plus, pressing your boss is just going to remind her why Sharon is such a better employee. The first step to your success is focusing on your job—not someone else’s. Try saying: “I feel I’m ready for more responsibility and I hope you agree. Do you have any suggestions for how I can expand my role in the company?”
“This place would fall apart without me.”
This statement is both arrogant and condescending—and it’s probably not true. “It’s a very rare employee, indeed, who is the glue that holds an entire organization together,” says career expert Stacie Berdan, author of Go Global! Launching an International Career Here or Abroad. If you want your boss to take note of your achievements, ask her for feedback every few months or when you finish a project. The focus should be on concrete goals that you’ve met—not abstract statements that only serve to pat you on the back.
“I have some great gossip!”
Never feed the office rumor mill—even if you think your boss would be interested or it could earn you Brownie points. “It will likely come back to haunt you,” says workplace expert Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. “There is such a thing as corporate karma!” While it’s tempting to take the opportunity to try to befriend your boss, chances are your attempt will backfire, so resist the urge to spread petty gossip—no matter how juicy.
“That’s not how we did it at my old job.”
Whether you used to send faxes with cover sheets or celebrate Tuesday night happy hour with your colleagues, no one at your new job cares. If you can’t stop talking about your old job, your boss will probably wonder why you left it in the first place. “A truly marvelous way to torpedo your career is to constantly reference your former workplace,” says Lubin-Sherman. “Get with the program!”