Dave Kerpen | 17 Things You Should Never Say to Your Boss
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17 Things You Should Never Say to Your Boss

17 Things You Should Never Say to Your Boss

“Leave me alone!”

I said it to my boss at Radio Disney many years ago. I was a young, very high-performing salesperson, and he was my sales manager. Even though I was generating huge sales numbers, I was often late to work, or meetings, and every morning, as I passed by his office, he would look down at his watch and shake his head disapprovingly.

I knew I was wrong to be late, but I got increasingly frustrated by his looking down at that watch, his complaints to me, and his lack of positive recognition about my sales accomplishments. So one day, after coming in at 9:05, just 5 minutes late, and seeing him look down at that watch again, I marched right into his office and told him to leave me alone.

I got sent home that day by my boss. We eventually mended things, and came to an understanding about how important punctuality was to him, and how important positive feedback was to me. But our relationship was never totally mended.

Fifteen years later, now I am a boss, and have had my share of interesting things said to me. I believe all leaders and managers should try to keep an open mind and encourage open communication from all of their reports. Still, perhaps there are some things better left unsaid? To find out the answers to this question, I asked 17 young “bosses” — leaders from The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) — what the worst thing they’d ever been told is. Here are their answers, or what not to say to your boss, followed by my own personal answer to the question:

1. ‘I Am Just Here for the Money’

In China, it is very common for a lot of employees to work just for the money. This means they will leave if you fail to give them a raise or if their peers start to make a lot more money than they do. Our interview process has filtered this as much as possible but if we hear through the “grapevine” that the person is just doing the job for the money we will let them go very quickly.

Derek Capo, CEO and Founder, Next Step China


2. ‘You Never Told Me to Do It’

When something important doesn’t get done, the worst thing you can say is, “You never asked me to do it.” There are few better ways to neglect yourself of that promotion, a raise, or even job security.

Ken Cauley, President, Advanced Media


3. ‘There’s Something Wrong’

It’s easy to complain about what’s wrong. It’s hard to come up with solutions to fix the problem. My former manager at LivingSocial said, “Be a problem solver, not spotter,” and I’ve taken this advice to heart in my everyday life. If you see a problem, don’t address the situation with what’s wrong; address the situation with an answer. If you don’t have a real solution, wait until you do.

Sarah Ware, Markerly



4. ‘I Want to Do What’s Easiest’

We have a client who had an employee literally explain that he would rather do a particularly menial task than the task that the employer had assigned because it would be easier for him. We were shocked. This is the most explicit way to alert your boss that you don’t care about improving your skill set without directly telling him. Never do this if you care about your career!

Patrick Conley, Founder / CEO, Automation Heroes

5. ‘That Takes Up Too Much Time’

Through the years, we have had many operational restructurings that have required large amounts of data to be filtered and edited or re-formatted in some manner. There’s nothing worse than an employee who complains about the amount of time required to move the company to the next level.

Laura Land, CFO / COO, Accessory Export, LLC


6. ‘I Could Be Doing Other Things’

Bratty much? Don’t complain about your job. If you hate it, quit. If there’s something wrong with it, find a way to fix it. If someone or something is really ticking you off, don’t project your anger onto others, especially not your boss. If it’s a good job, be grateful for it. If you want more out of your job, make it happen. Be diplomatic about it and make it your dream job, or leave.

Danny Wong, Co-founder, Blank Label

7. ‘I Promise to Do That’

Don’t ever tell your boss you’re able to do something if you know you may not be able to deliver. It is better to be honest, ask for advice and have a proactive attitude. If you fail to deliver, then it has negative repercussions for the business, which is taken much more seriously.

Christopher Pruijsen, Co-Founder / Partnerships, Afrostart.io


8. ‘It’s Too Difficult’

I get fired up when someone is paralyzed and doesn’t complete a task because it’s difficult or because few others have done it. We’re a disruptive company that has to innovate, that has to do things few have done before us. One of my advisors here has a quote: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” We won’t win if we don’t think big.

Marcos Cordero, Chief Gradsaver, GradSave, LLC


9. ‘I Agree to Disagree’

Whether it is said explicitly or passive-aggressively, this mindset has no place in startup culture. Those who have this mindset should either found their own startups or go work in big corporate America where this goes unnoticed. At a startup, you’re either all the way in or all the way out.

Danny Boice, Co-Founder & CTO, Speek


10. ‘I Don’t Have an Opinion’

The people who just sit and nod their heads are the ones who are expendable. If you want to make an impression as a valuable member of the team, offer your insights. No one ever agrees with his boss 100 percent all the time, so make your opinion known if you have something worth saying.

Nick Friedman, President, College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving


11. ‘I Can’t’

I don’t want to hear excuses ever! We focus on hiring can-do, positive, creative employees with passion, drive and determination.

Kuba Jewgieniew, Founder and CEO, Realty ONE Group



12. ‘I’m Not Optimistic’

The most important thing for any team member is to stay optimistic. Being a pessimist and doubting the future of the company is a real downer. There is nothing wrong with being realistic; however, people who are melancholy suck the life out of an early-stage company and cannot last long.

Raoul Davis, CEO, Ascendant Group


13. ‘I’m Clocked Out’

There is nothing more discouraging to an entrepreneur than when an employee says he is not willing to go the extra mile because he isn’t “clocked in.” We remind our employees that they work for a young company and they are in control of their own careers. Acting within the status quo never gets you to the top!

Darren Solomon, President, Kid Ventures


14. ‘That’s Not My Responsibility’

It’s critical that everyone feels invested in the success of all areas of the business. Everyone should be willing to pitch in, even if what’s required isn’t part of their normal day-to-day activities.

Robert J. Moore, Co-Founder and CEO, RJMetrics


15. ‘That’s Not My Job’

Your responsibilities aren’t limited to what was listed in your original job description — especially at a startup. Unless your boss is asking you to do something illegal or unethical, you should do it.

Mary Ellen Slayter, Founder/Managing Director, Reputation Capital


16. ‘I Don’t Like Working for Other People’

An employee actually told me that he didn’t like working for other people. That person doesn’t work for me anymore!

Andrew Angus, CEO, Switch Video



17. ‘I’m Not Working Hard’

I never want to know that someone who works for me isn’t working hard. People can disagree with me, and I’m fine to hear criticism. I’ll never lose respect for anyone because he disagrees with me or because they failed. I don’t want to know if someone is giving less than their best effort or that someone lied. I have high expectations of people when it comes to their work ethic.

Dries Buytaert, Co-founder and CTO, Drupal


As for me? I can actually handle, even encourage, most of the statements above being said to me, because as long as they’re honest, they’ll help me build a better company and help my employees find their place, either at one of my companies or elsewhere. I’d rather know what people really think, so I encourage people to feel comfortable saying anything to me. The one thing I think you should never say to me or your boss? A lie. I’ve written before about the importance and power of honesty. In employee – manager relations, honesty is as important as it is anywhere.

Always tell the truth to your boss, and never tell a lie.

Lies are too risky – not only to your relationship with your boss, but to your relationship with yourself.


Now it’s your turn. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to your boss? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever been told at work? What do you think the worst thing someone can say to a manager is? Which of the above statements doyou agree with, and disagree with? Please let me know in the Comments section below.

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