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The Savvy Office Manager

12 common phrases that turn a boss into a jerk

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Cal Butera

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in The Savvy Office Manager

You’re human. You’re entitled to say some obnoxious things now and then.

But keep in mind your employees absorb and weigh your words, and they’ll give you a pass on those annoying expressions for only so long. Spew these dozen phrases at your peril:

1. Hold that thought. OK. For how long? Later today? Tomorrow? Or until I forget about it? If an employee has a thought (be thankful they do), hear it out. “Hold that thought” is code for “I’m not interested in what you are about to say.”

2. That’s above my pay grade. Congratulations. You’ve just turned yourself into rank-and-file. You have essentially told an employee that you not only can’t solve his or her problem, but you’re afraid to poke anyone higher on the totem pole for a solution.

3. Because I pay your salary. Unless you own the company, no you don’t. Odds are you are on the payroll too, and the employee knows his pay is not coming from your wallet. Such a pompous statement is usually uttered by a boss who either can’t articulate a simple, civil reason for issuing an order or assignment or is just intoxicated by the sheer power of the words.

4. I’m really busy right now. Of course you are. But an employee is at your doorway with a question, a problem, maybe a better way of doing something. Find out what he or she wants. Maybe it can be addressed in minutes. If not, schedule a time when the worker can come back. Employees are your top resource; they don’t deserve a quick brush-off.

5. Yesterday. Now that’s a clever retort to an employee’s “When do you need it?” question. The cliché that it is, it’s no longer funny, but demeaning to the worker who’s seeking a serious, meaningful deadline. If something is urgent, say so with a brief explanation why.

6. I need a vacation! Who doesn’t? This phrase, huffed in exasperation, tells your employees that you can’t handle your job, or it’s your puerile way of letting your employees think they can’t handle theirs.

7. Good job! Good job! Not everything everyone does amounts to a good job. Overuse of this T-Ball-field praise dilutes its effectiveness. Use it sparingly, when it’s really warranted. Imagine blasting an email at each day’s end to all your employees: “Thanks everyone. Good job!” Most will catch on to the insincerity on the second day. The slower ones, by the third.

8. I only took __ days off last year. A boss who says this is either inviting everyone to a pity party or elevating his own work ethic above theirs. Either way, no one cares about your woes when you’ve got the shiny corner office and they don’t.

9. Why did this mistake happen? If this question is asked, it better be directed squarely at the system, not the people in it. Otherwise, your employees will think, “Why? Because it did. Because we’re not perfect. Shall we go down the list of your own bloopers, bossman?”

10. This is an amazing group of employees—the best anywhere! Come on, employees know when they’re not whiz kid innovators and world-changers. They know when they’ll never make the front page for their genius or for growing the company into an industry titan. Well-meaning hyperbole can grow stale quickly.

11. I don’t believe in giving employees a perfect score. This all-time performance review downer is a great way to convey that there’s no point in truly excelling. Your misguided motivational technique will guarantee you’re branded an A+ doofus. And a disliked one at that.

12. Let me know if you need help. In itself, these words are just fine—even commendable. But tone is everything: When they’re just empty verbal punctuation ending a sentence, and essentially mean “Good luck, don’t bother me with this anymore,” you’re now the master of lip service. Assistance offered grudgingly makes the employee feel like he or she will receive a demerit for asking for it.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Madeline October 27, 2014 at 10:40 am

Just downloaded your article to my Google Drive for my personal knowledge and information.
Came across many a boss when I was working. Now retired. Can’t even fathom that this stuff has to continually goes on in the 21st Century. My feeling for many of those thoughts are that the boss him/herself are insecure in their lives and feel superior with their behavior on the job.


Sooze October 21, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I’ve been on the end of “hold that thought” many times and often past the point where I can’t remember what it was I was going to share with the group. Too often, the “why was this mistake happen” isn’t directed toward the process or system but the employee. Regardless of what excuse the employee may come up with, it’s not sufficient enough to warrant not getting a dressing down. Most of the time my boss was fair and upfront with her comments regarding work. Didn’t over do it and was sincere in her appraisal. That’s a blessing.


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