Friday, May 3, 2013


Any good manager likes an employee who speaks his mind. Having the courage to say things that need to be said is generally considered a good quality. But what to say and how to say it are two very different things. You need to practice good diplomacy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a full timer with a clearly defined long-term career objective or a part-timer in one of those temporary jobs in Singapore. You have to know how to say what you need to say without offending your boss. 

To maintain a good working relationship with your boss, here’s a list of the things you should never, ever tell him.

“I can’t do that; it’s not possible.” No manager likes being told “no.” When you tell him that what he’s asking for isn’t possible, you are in effect rejecting the job he’s assigning to you. Don’t do that. Find a way. Of course, there will be times when what you’re being tasked to do is really not humanly possible. For example: you work in an event management, and your boss wants you to have 200 invitations ready for mailing in five days, If you’re convinced you can’t possibly deliver on this, don’t say it can’t be done. First, discuss the possible alternatives with your boss. Ask him if he can move the deadline a few days. If he says no, ask him if it’s all right to email the invitations instead of sending out hard copies. If this isn’t feasible either, discuss with him the possibility of getting help from other members of the team, and even other departments, to get the job done. Get all the help you need. Whatever you do, don’t tell your boss it’s not possible.

“That’s not my job.” When your boss asks you to do something that’s not in your job description, understand first of all that he already knows all about your job description. After all, he is your boss. But it’s not unusual for managers to now and then ask their people to take on certain tasks that go beyond their job descriptions. It may be that the department that’s better able to do the job is overloaded or understaffed at the moment. Also, keep in mind that your boss wouldn’t ask you to do something outside your job description if he didn’t think you were capable. Show your boss that you’re willing to go that extra mile. Stay positive, and do what has to be done.

“I’ll try.” This implies that there’s the possibility of failure. You can dress up the statement all you like, saying things like “I’ll give it my best shot,” or “I’ll do what I can,” but your boss will see right through the disguise. These “I’ll try” responses are actually an admission that the task at hand is a daunting one, and you don’t want to make any commitments. In other words, “I’ll try” is too safe. Your boss doesn’t want to hear any non-committal, safe answers. What he wants to hear is, “I’ll do it,” and he wants to hear this said with conviction. Think of it this way: taking on challenges not only puts you in a good light with your boss, it also helps you grow professionally.

“I stayed up late working on this.” Here’s a simple rule to keep in mind: you do NOT talk about how passionate you are about your job, or how hard you work. You show it. Your boss doesn’t want to hear you rambling on about how much effort you put into this project or that requirement. He just wants to see the results. Other statements that fall under this category: “I sacrificed my weekend to finish this job on time.” “I worked at home, using my own computer, to meet the deadline.” These proclamations are a double-edged sword: they come across as a combination of bragging and griping. Your boss’s immediate reaction (spoken or unspoken): Spare me. And you know what? He’s right. You have to let your actions, not your words, speak for you.

“I don’t agree with you.” These are words no manager wants to hear from a subordinate. It’s not only tactless, it’s downright disrespectful. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking one-on-one or in a group meeting (though the latter would certainly be worse). You just don’t say this. Your view may once in a while differ from that of your boss, but you don’t have to be so blunt about it. While he may welcome a different perspective, there’s a proper way to express your view. When you find yourself disagreeing with your boss, say instead, “The way I see it…” or “My thinking is…” Note that there is no word in these phrases that indicates disagreement. What is indicated is an expression of opinion, which any good manager welcomes.

Remember, if your words won’t achieve anything, don’t speak. But if you must speak, choose your words wisely. In both your work and your personal life, diplomacy goes a long way towards building good relationships.

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