5 Things a Boss Should Never Say

No one wants to beat down enthusiasm and dedication in employees. Yet, we’ve all seen it happen. It’s amazing how a few words from the boss can change everything.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #151

No one wants to beat down people’s enthusiasm and willingness to contribute. Yet, we’ve all seen it happen. Employees who were once colorful and bright showing up to work “gray,” day after day, after day. It’s amazing how a few words from the boss can change everything.

Take new employee Mallory. She turned in her first report this week and was excited to hear feedback from her supervisor, Janice. Mallory used a spreadsheet instead of a word processing document because it allowed her to crunch some numbers which served to back up her findings. She was pleased with what she discovered and proudly presented the report over to her boss.

Janice took once glance at it and said, “That’s not how we do things here.”


Mallory took the report and went back to her cubicle with a sigh and an eye roll. She opened a word processing document and began to type out the information, mumbling under her breath, “Really? Didn’t you hire me for my experience?”

It’s amazing how quickly managers can make or break morale, hinder creativity, and crush the initiative of their team with a simple comments a few seemingly innocuous words. If you’re the boss, here are 5 things you should never say to your employees:

#1 “We don’t do things that way here.”

Sure, you have policies and procedures. But you also have employees with brains and creativity. Don’t stay locked into one way of doing things just because that’s how it has always been done. What untapped potential exists in your team because they are afraid of this type of reaction? Granted, employees need guidance and you can’t have everyone just doing their own thing. However, if you create a rigid culture, you won’t benefit from new ideas, and you may have more turnover, too, which will be expensive and inefficient.

#2  “I can't help you.”

This phrase shouldn’t be said to employees or to clients/customers. Teach your team to look for solutions, from a variety of sources.  Instead say, “Talk with Ben, he has already gone through the process.” Or “What have you tried so far? Can you think of any other options that might work?” Be a leader who is also a resource. Teach employees to think of creative alternatives that allow them to solve problems independently. 

In the case of dealing with customers, rather than saying, “I can’t help you with that,” say something like "In this case, you’d be better served with someone who focuses on that aspect of the project. I can recommend someone if you’d like." Even if you can't help with the actual need, you can be seen as a resource, which will keep customers coming back to you. And eventually, you will be able to help them with a service you do offer.

#3 “Let me help you?”

Didn’t I just say that you should be helpful? Then why am I now telling you to avoid saying, “Let me help you?” Well, it’s a balancing act. Never being helpful is as bad as offering your help too often or too quickly. Use this phrase with discretion when dealing with your team because you want them to learn how to handle things on their own. If you offer to help before you’ve given them time to work things out on their own, your employees will begin to feel demoralized, unempowered, or complacent.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.

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