Maxwell Stephens

Keep your foot out of your mouth – What not to say to your boss!

Spending the majority of your waking life in the workplace means that there is a very good chance that at some point you will say something you shouldn’t to the wrong person. We all know how it feels to put our foot in our mouth, however there is a whole level of embarrassment and risk associated with saying the wrong thing to your boss. Within the world of recruitment, we often talk to individuals who are unhappy in their job, or have numerous professional and personal gripes in their position. Obviously it’s important to share legitimate grievances using the appropriate channels and procedures, but it’s just as important to consider the actual language that is used to share these issues. As recruiters we have talked to our fair share of disgruntled employees and employers alike, and there are certain phrases or topics which tend to cause friction unless approached very tactfully. Here are just a few examples of what we mean:


“I need more money.”


If there’s one thing that has the potential to cause workplace friction it’s money! The fragile subject of a promotion/raise therefore needs to be approached delicately. You may feel like you are being undervalued, and this may make you angry, however you need to hold your tongue and prepare this discussion. Take the time to assess why you are undervalued; what roles and responsibilities you have; important milestones and provide clear, quantifiable examples of your contributions. Simply “needing” more money is not an appropriate reason for getting a raise, and blurting this out to your boss without any prior thought is a big no-no.


“I hate working with <>.”


Humans are combative creatures. We may have evolved beyond our ape ancestors but that doesn’t mean a bit of animalistic confrontation doesn’t happen every now and again. Colleague disputes are one of the most common complaints that managers and employers have to deal with, and is cited as being one of the more unwanted workplace tasks for most managers (especially when the complaints are minor or trivial). We’re not saying that it should be all peace and love in the workplace, however explicitly badmouthing a colleague to your boss may not be the most constructive solution. If you have an issue with a colleague, and you feel comfortable doing so, you should try to address the issue directly with them and a calm and professional manner. It may simply be a misunderstanding or miscommunication therefore you can nip it in the bud before it becomes a full-blown turf war. If addressing the issue directly isn’t an option you should bring it to your manager’s attention, but just be aware of what you say. This should not be a character assassination so you should avoid abstract criticisms such as “They don’t know what they’re doing” or “They are so rude” etc. Instead you should discuss specific instances of problems caused by your colleague and their behaviour, e.g. “They consistently miss report deadlines”, and if you can try and suggest appropriate solutions.


“It’s not my fault!”


For many people, the natural reaction to being disciplined ay be to try and shirk the blame and shift it onto someone else. Don’t do this! It may be the case that the situation is not all your fault – maybe you missed a deadline as you were waiting for a colleague’s input – but it is important that you take your share of the responsibility. We’re not saying that you should accept blame, but you should explain how the problem arose and how you will prevent this from happening again in the future.


“That’s not in my job description.”


Being in the world of work you’ve probably heard this sound bite on numerous occasions, you may even have said it a few times yourself. From our extensive experience in recruitment and dealing with employers, we can confidently say saying this is a bad idea. Telling your boss you won’t do something as it’s not in your job description translates as “I’m inflexible and unwilling to help”. This is particularly true in the world of Facilities Management. As FM is such an expansive sector, Facilities Managers may find themselves carrying out a wide range of tasks that aren’t part of their job description, but this is to be expected in this and many other sectors (within reason). Showing a willingness to help out can only be a good thing in the eyes of your employer.


The key piece of advice running through all of these examples is to consider how you communicate. Obviously, the language you use is of huge importance, but you should also assess your non-verbal communication (body language, tone of voice, volume etc). There a lot of potentially problematic topics and situations in the workplace, but approaching them in a professional and measured manner will always help the situation.

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