10 ways to piss off your boss

Want to anger your boss, harm your chances for promotion or a raise, and generally lower your value in her eyes? Here are 10 things that are guaranteed to frustrate your manager.

1. Don’t take responsibility for your mistakes. Reasonable bosses know that no one is perfect and that mistakes will sometimes happen; what they care about is how you follow up on a mistake. If you make excuses, get defensive, or deny responsibility, your boss won’t trust that you understand why the mistake happened in the first place and what you need to do to prevent it in the future.

2. Be too sensitive to take feedback calmly. If you routinely get upset, offended, or angry when your boss gives you feedback on your work, you’re making it hard (and painful) for your boss to do her job. Worse yet, she might start avoiding giving you important feedback that you need to hear. You need to know what you could be doing better, and you’re more likely to hear it if you don’t make it difficult for your boss to tell you.

3. Don’t take notes during a discussion of work that you’ll be doing. When you’re having a nuanced discussion of a project, your boss wants to see that you’re capturing the details. If you’re not writing things down, she’s going to wonder how you’re really going to retain all of it. It comes across as cavalier and not taking the project seriously enough.

4. Guess instead of finding out an answer for sure. Guessing means that some of the time, you’ll be giving out wrong information. And your boss isn’t asking you questions just to pass the time; she’ll be making decisions or taking actions based on the information you provide, so it needs to be right. If you’re not sure about something, say so – and then say you’ll find out.

5. Don’t disclose your biases. It’s fine to have biases; we all do. But if you hide your agenda or biases from your boss and she eventually finds out, you’ll have destroyed your credibility with her. On the other hand, be vigilant about owning up to your biases, and you’ll earn real and lasting credibility.

6. Regularly vent about your frustrations without bringing them to your manager. Everyone vents about their job (or their boss) sometimes. But if you find yourself routinely complaining to other people, it’s time to either talk to your manager or start keeping it to yourself. Eventually, your complaints will get back to your boss and she’ll be unimpressed that you weren’t professional enough to address your concerns head-on.

7. Treat a coworker badly. You may be 100% in the right when it comes to the substance of your stance, but if you’re rude, hostile, or disrespectful with colleagues, you’ll harm your manager’s ability to back you – and will shift the focus to your own behavior.

8. Use email for complicated, sensitive, or heated topics. Yes, it often feels easier to stay behind your computer to hash out difficult subjects. But sometimes you just need to pick up the phone or talk to people face-to-face, and your boss wants to know that you have the judgment to recognize those times.

9. Make your manager follow up with you to ensure things are getting done. If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do – whether it’s because you’re disorganized and don’t keep track of what you commit to, or because you never thought it was a good idea in the first place – your boss will conclude that she can’t count on you to keep your word.

10. Hide things. Hiding things – work that isn’t getting done, an angry client, a missed deadline, the fact that you don’t really know how to use that software – is the kiss of death. If your boss isn’t confident that you’ll give her bad news directly or be forthright about a problem, at a minimum you’ll destroy her trust in you and signal that she needs to dig around for what else you might be hiding. And it might even get you fired.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! Let’s say you’re discussing a problem with a coworker with your boss. You really dislike this coworker. You might say something like: “I’ll be honest, there’s something about Joe that gets under my skin, and it’s possible that’s coloring my judgment here. That said, I do think it’s a problem that he’s putting up these roadblocks to getting these invoices out.”

      Or, in another situation, you might say, “I have an incentive to favor Solution X because it’ll make my life easier. But I do think it’s the right way to go aside from that because of the following factors.”

      In other words, you put your biases on the table up front. This says to your boss that you care most about getting to the right answer, and so you want her to know what might be coloring your judgment. Everyone has stuff that colors their judgment, but most people aren’t good about even realizing it, let alone disclosing it.

  1. Jamie*

    Yes x 10 to everything on that list!

    It’s like you tapped into my head and downloaded the top ten things that drive me crazy.

  2. Anon*

    There are all common sense, but it’s great to have them spelled out like this.

    I need to look for work elsewhere and I know it, so I tend to fall into the trap of complaining too much. I try to be aware of it and try to separate my sour grapes from legitimate concerns, but I don’t always succeed. Luckily, while I don’t like my company anymore, I do like my coworkers so it’s not like I’m angry or unhappy all the time. I also read an article about how it can reinforce your negative feelings to complain too much. Some talking can help you vent and release, but if you keep talking about it it just keeps those negative feelings fresh in your mind. This is also something I try to keep in mind.

  3. Esra*

    I actually had a manager who would get angry at me for taking notes while he was telling me what to do. He was… not very good.

  4. Scott*

    I work at a company where we all despise our boss. He docks us pay when are 10 minutes late, but then will expect us to work 3 or 4 hours late for free. We reported him to the labor board and got back wages since we’re hourly, but basically are looking for new jobs.

    We’re trying to coordinate it so that 5-10 of us quit all at once on the same day which will totally f*** him over in terms of running the business. Are their any negatives to this that we should consider? Can he sue us for leaving the same day?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      He can’t sue you, but you’ll have an awful reference from that job, since it’ll be obvious that you coordinated to try to screw him over. That kind of thing isn’t worth it — find a new job and leave, but don’t coordinate it with your coworkers. Preserve your reputation, and act like a mature, professional person, not a spiteful teenager.

      1. Jo*

        Sounds like a good plan. Don’t worry about the bad reference. If that was true I would never ever have a job. I’ve messed up on a few jobs and got screwed over too. I did something similar but it was only two of us that left at the same time but my idiot boss felt it hard being that we were the two key players in what we did with this small company. Vengence is necessary sometimes.

        1. pizza-person*

          i agree. vengeance IS necessary some times. I work at a Dominos Pizza and I’ve caught my boss docking my pay, cutting hours from my time sheet, and on top of all of that, we can’t cash our checks! Nobody in this small town(taft, California) will cash the checks because my boss’ checks keep bouncing! now I have to drive to some little mom and pop store that our boss pays to cash our checks. even though we have to pay $7 to cash it. I know that this is illegal and no banks in this town accept checks from him. he squats in these really nice houses and his fat children eat pizza for free for every meal. its absolutely disgusting.
          I’m sorry. that’s a personal opinion. but I’m just so angry. I’m shaking as I type this.
          Other people have been fired for threatening to tell on him. One of my coworkers’ parents is an officer and has threatened my boss(who we shall call bob). bob has been more helpful to him but there has to be something I can do. hes taking our money, treating us terribly, and people in the community wont believe me! He’s in tight with the city. He’s in the rotary club. he has these meetings with other restaurant owners in the town(this is a small town). im assuming the police wouldn’t be able to do anything. and ive submitted a form to the labor board twice. please someone has to know how to help me. should I tell my local news channel to do an investigation?
          Quitting isn’t an option because I have bills to pay but at $8/hr and paying to receive my checks, if I can cash them at all … Its hard to make a living.

          im sorry this was so long but I need some helpful advise.

          any input is greatly appreciated. :)

          1. KellyK*

            Personally, I would keep track of every hour you work and every discrepancy in your pay, look really hard for another job, *then* file a complaint. Don’t threaten, because it’ll get you fired. Just do it when you’re in a position to.

        2. KellyK*

          Yeah, but how sure are you that your next job even called the employer you screwed over? Some places don’t bother checking references, but a lot do. There’s no way to know if you were just lucky. Just because it didn’t come back to bite you doesn’t mean it won’t come back to bite Scott and his coworkers. Especially since 5 or 10 people leaving at once is more obviously coordinated than two, and the odds that *none* of those people’s potential next employers will call that guy for a reference are really low. For that matter, it might still hurt you the next time you’re looking.

  5. Boss*

    Personally, I feel your next step is to wait….find another job….. But wait…. If your boss is that big of a jerk it will come back to haunt him… In the mean time contact IRS ,….I’m sure he could use an audit!

  6. Anthony Alfidi*

    A lot of these perspectives assume that a manager will respect an employee who wants to do the right thing. That isn’t always the case. Unethical bosses will feel threatened by a do-gooder employee. Leaving a bad boss is always the right thing to do even if it means turning down incentives for unethical behavior. Temping is the future anyway, even for highly-skilled work that pays well.

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