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Updated Oct 20, 2023

5 Things a Boss Should Never Say

Leadership language is crucial for success and employee engagement.

Linda Pophal portrait
Linda Pophal, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Some organizations have strict no-fraternizing policies between employees and their supervisors and managers. Other organizations are managed more like families, with employees and managers regularly socializing on personal and professional levels.

Wherever your company falls on the workplace friendliness spectrum and whatever your leadership style, there are certain topics and information that bosses should never discuss. We’ll explore what bosses should never say and how to prioritize leadership language in your organization.

Did You Know?Did you know
Traits of a good boss include intellectual honesty, self-awareness, a willingness to develop talent, and excellent delegating skills.

Things bosses shouldn’t say

We asked business leaders for insights on topics and information that bosses should never discuss. Here’s what they shared about leadership mistakes in communication. 

1. Bosses should never discuss confidential information.

True leaders earn their employees’ trust by prioritizing confidentiality at all times. 

“Never share anything told to you in confidence by one employee with any others,” said Jeri Denniston, a small business advisor with the Maricopa SBDC in Arizona. “To do so destroys trust, is disrespectful of that trust, and ruins your ability to mentor and coach your staff.”

2. Bosses should never talk about how wonderful they are.

Good bosses don’t feel the need to toot their own horns and declare how intelligent and capable they are. 

“Telling your employees how smart you are needs to stop,” said Maynard Brusman, a consulting psychologist and executive coach at Working Resources. “Employees view bosses who exhibit this behavior as arrogant and condescending. It undermines motivation, engagement and productivity.”

3. Bosses should never tell employees about disagreements with superiors.

If leaders disagree with upper management, it’s best to keep it to themselves. Sharing their disenchantment with the organization puts employees in an awkward position.

“A leader should never tell employees about any disagreements or personal issues amongst the management team,” said Barb McEwen, founder and president of 20/20 Executive Coaching. “To undermine one’s teammates or your leader is political suicide. Once the management team agrees in a certain direction, then everyone on the management team must be united in moving the vision forward.” 

4. Bosses should never say, “Do what I say because I am in charge.”

Using your power to force your employees to listen won’t help you build a great team or foster employee engagement and loyalty. 

“This is taking advantage of your title and level in the company,” said Joel Garfinkle, founder and owner of Garfinkle Executive Coaching. “You can’t get your employees to do what you want just because of your title.” 

5. Bosses should never discuss their personal ups and downs.

Even in the friendliest office, it’s bad form for leaders to discuss their personal issues with their team.

“To be an effective leader, you need to be able to put aside your moods, your doubts, and the morning’s argument with your spouse in order to focus yourself and your team on reaching the company’s goals,” said Trisha Scudder, founder of Executive Coaching Group.

TipTip
In addition to being aware of what they shouldn't say, good leaders practice active listening to foster a culture of clear communication.

The importance of using the right language as a leader

Leaders significantly influence the people who report to them and anyone who encounters them on the job. Their actions and language matter, so it’s crucial for leaders to improve their self-awareness and modify their behavior.  

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, leaders can be a critical driver of workplace toxicity. An analysis of the 128 topics most discussed by employees in Glassdoor reviews found five attributes that contributed to a toxic environment. These attributes are directly related to how bosses communicate with those around them: 

  • Disrespectful
  • Non-inclusive
  • Unethical
  • Cutthroat
  • Abusive

A leader’s ultimate goal should be to create a collaborative environment where team members aren’t afraid to contribute – not an environment where the leader’s voice is the only one that matters. David Marquet, author of Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say – and What You Don’t (Portfolio, 2020), said too many leaders fall in love with the sound of their own voices using an outdated “command and control” style. Instead, carefully choosing your language can improve the organization’s overall decision-making and direction. 

How to improve your leadership language

To become a better leader and improve language and communication in the workplace, consider the following best practices: 

  • Use inclusive language. Inclusive communication is crucial in today’s workplace. Leaders and their teams must acknowledge unconscious biases, understand microaggressions, and learn to speak and listen with inclusivity. 
  • Demonstrate transparency in your language. Transparency – open and honest communication – is critical in any work setting. Transparent leaders keep communication lines open and build authentic relationships with their team.
  • Pay attention to body language. Words aren’t our only communication medium; we also communicate via body language. For example, telling someone they’ve done a good job with a frown on your face while shaking your head back and forth conveys a mixed message. And failing to make and keep eye contact with an employee asking for advice suggests disinterest. 
Key TakeawayKey takeaway
To show your commitment to inclusivity, make diversity and a culture of inclusion part of your company’s mission statement.

Leadership language matters

As a boss, leader or manager, your language – including what you say and how you say it – matters significantly. Your words have power and can affect your reputation, your company’s reputation, and your employees’ productivity and engagement. 

Make effective communication part of your leadership development goals. Be attuned to your actions and words no matter your workplace environment to foster a community of respect and trust. 

Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Linda Pophal portrait
Linda Pophal, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Linda Pophal is a small business owner and human resources expert with SHRM-SCP and SPHR credentials. Pophal began her career in communications, helping businesses with internal and external communication objectives, marketing initiatives, branding needs, PR and crisis management. She went on to spend nearly two decades teaching business-related topics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before founding her own strategic communications firm. In addition to her HR accreditations, Pophal was named a Professional Certified Marketer by the American Marketing Association and an Accredited Business Communicator by the International Association of Business Communicators. She has published multiple books, including "The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Strategic Planning." Her work is regularly featured on the SHRM blog, HR Daily Advisor, SAP Viewpoints, CRM Magazine and other outlets.
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