What Your Boss Really Hears

A recent review got me thinking. The way I talk to my bosses has changed a lot over the last few years. A lot. I’ve learned the hard way that speaking instinctively doesn’t work. Knee-jerk responses are rarely good strategy.


For example, when you say: “I couldn’t help it! I tried my best!”

Your boss really hears: “I can’t help failing in this situation, so I’ll fail again next time.”

“We can’t really help our numbers. We’ve inherited a tough situation.”

Really means: “You’ll have to find another employee who is solution-oriented, not problem-oriented.”

“This change sucks! I liked it the old way!”

“I’m focusing on what I’m losing, not on what I could gain from this. I’m going to be no help from now on.”

“I’m done with all my stuff–there’s nothing else I can do.”

“Don’t trust me to innovate and be independent. I can’t come up with any ideas of my own, and I’m blind to the fact that there’s always more that can be done.”

“I have so much going on, I totally forgot about that.”

“I’m not organized enough, so I’ll forget more things.”

“I’m just having one of those days, you know?”

“I don’t have enough self-control. You’re going to have to light a fire under me or find someone with a better work ethic.”

“Here’s what happened: [This, that, and the other thing] happened to me, so [bad thing] ended up happening.”

“I see myself as a victim of situations, so you cannot trust me to take responsibility and make sure the right thing happens from now on.”

“I just can’t work well with that person. I really don’t like him. He’s really annoying.”

“I’m not a team player, and I’m not very friendly.”

“I’m sorry about today, I just have a bunch of personal stuff going on.”

“I can’t keep work and personal issues separate. You can expect poor performance whenever personal issues come up.”

“I’m sorry, I keep sleeping through my alarm!”

“I can’t be bothered to go to bed earlier or get a louder alarm. You’re going to have to deal with it.”

“That’s not my job.”

“I will always insist on doing the bare minimum in my job description. You’re the manager, it’s your problem.”

“That’s way outside my comfort zone, is there someone else who can do it?”

“I don’t look for ways to grow. Surely you have a more valuable employee you can ask.”

“That’s impossible. Nobody can do that!”

“I’m too small for this task. You need a bigger person.”


It’s not that your boss can’t sympathize when you’re having a tough time. And it’s not that mistakes aren’t okay. The point is, taking ownership of  situations, mistakes, problems, challenges, results, for you and your team–that, and only that, communicates a positive message about you to your boss.

In fact, sometimes all it takes is adding one sentence, and your boss couldn’t be happier: “I have so much going on, I totally forgot about that.” Plus: “I’m sorry. I’ll get more organized today and make sure I’m keeping tabs on everything I need to get done.”


What else do you say, or hear your co-workers say, that really doesn’t get the results intended? How could you approach things differently?

Moral of the story: Before you open your mouth, listen to yourself from your leader’s perspective.

Do You Make These 5 Mistakes When Faced with Change?

How do you deal with change? It’s important to think about, because change will inevitably happen. And it seems the most natural response of almost everybody is to cry doom and gloom.

So what do you do when your organization rolls out changes?

Most people I’ve seen face organizational changes in strategies, goals, or systems, immediately fall into these 5 behaviors–behaviors that bring down themselves and their teams, and can even destroy entire organizations. The behaviors are based on an emotional, knee-jerk reaction of fear. Not on an ambitious spirit of practicality and innovation.

So if you do these things, stop.


Waste time being sad about the change: Using your time and energy to regret the changes, sitting around comparing the old with the new–it doesn’t help. All it does is demotivate you and make it that much harder to finally accept the change and move forward.

Instead, get absolutely pumped: Whether you agree with the change or not, big changes provide all kinds of big opportunities to shine. You can decide to quickly become one of your team’s MVPs by taking the lead and running with the change instead of giving up hope.

Tell your boss it’s not going to work: Your boss is already stressed out by the fact that he has to run a new system his people hate. Your boss might not like the change either, but more than anything he needs people to decide to run with it. Complain to your boss, and all he hears is, “I can’t and I won’t get results for you anymore.”

Instead, be your boss’s right hand man: Responding to change with an enthusiastic, “Let’s do this!” immediately makes you a huge asset to your boss. Not only does he not have to worry about you, he will trust you and give you more responsibilities and opportunities. You’re the first one on his new team.

Talk negatively about the change with your team: This one has the potential to do a lot more damage than any of the others, because it’s not just you who will suffer from it. Grand initiatives have been destroyed by grumbling employees. They demotivate each other, encourage insubordination, create a war with the leadership, and even tell customers and clients that something’s going wrong.

Instead, lead the positive chatter: Your success is directly tied to your team’s, so it is in your best interests not only to run with the change yourself, but also to get your doubting team on board as quick as you can. Speak only positively. Your loyalty will get you paid, you’ll be seen as a leader, and hopefully you’ll help get your team back on the right track.

Keep using the old system: It’s just stupid. And it’s mind-boggling how much people do it. If you’re not supposed to do it that way any more, don’t do it. Nobody is going to be proud of you and give you a raise.

Instead, make yourself a leading expert in the new system: Take advantage of the opportunity to become one of the first people to excel and get results with the change. Your team and leaders will need and appreciate you more.

Focus on what you’re losing: No amount of regret will get back whatever you liked about your old system. It’s gone. Focusing on what you’re losing will only bring you down.

Instead, figure out what you can gain and go get it! Hiding in the change are probably a lot of pluses nobody has thought about because they’re all busy being depressed. Learn the new system, figure out how you’re going to end up even better for it, and take action!


Even if you know better than the leaders who made the changes, there is absolutely nothing about undermining or criticizing your organization that will benefit you as long as you’re there. If you have to leave, leave. But as long as you’re there, take advantage of the opportunity to stand out and figure out how to make more money, do more for your resume, and get a better reputation out of the change.

(P.S. What if you applied the same ideas to your personal life???)