Top 10 Things You Never Want to Hear at Work

Last Updated Aug 10, 2011 2:56 PM EDT

Top 10 Things You Should Never Hear at WorkWhoever came up with the expression it's better to give than to receive must have been talking about bad news.

Of course it sucks to deliver bad news, no doubt about it. But having been on both sides of the equation more times than I care to think about, I'd have to say that, given the choice, I'd rather not be on the receiving end.

Unfortunately, there is an awful lot of bad news being delivered these days. And I hate to say this, but so sooner or later, you're probably going to end up on the wrong end of it. When that happens, you're going to wish you had some warning because, well, you know what they say, forewarned is forearmed.

To that end, here are 10 phrases that, when you hear them, you can be pretty sure that what follows isn't going to be good. And while knowing what's coming won't buy you much time, you'd be surprised how many cycles the brain can process when it's racing in panic mode.

After all - and this is important, so pay attention - how you respond can make a big difference in whether people think of you as a consummate professional or a child throwing a tempter tantrum.

Top 10 Things You Never Want to Hear at Work
  1. We've got a crisis on our hands. Don't be fooled by the implication of shared responsibility. That's just a euphemism. Make no mistake; you're on the receiving end of the message because you're the one they're counting on to handle the crisis or die trying.
  2. There's no easy way to say this. Guess what? There's no easy way to hear it, either. This can precede any number of events, from you're about to get fired or your top employee is quitting on you to your biggest customer is bolting for your top competitor. It's all bad.
  3. Why don't you take some time off? This particular question can either precede or follow some really unpleasant news, like One of your employees has filed a sexual harassment claim against you or I'm afraid you're burning out and I don't want to have to fire your butt.
  4. All your meetings have been cancelled. This is where you say What do you mean all my meetings have been cancelled? to which your admin replies What can I say, nobody wants to meet with you. They could be customers, the media, employees, whatever, you're now officially insignificant. Never a good thing.
  5. Did you really just say that? Lots of people, especially public figures, have heard that one right after they think something that wasn't supposed to actually come out of their mouths, usually while the mic is on, the tape is rolling, or the boss is on the receiving end.
  6. I accidentally deleted it. It's gone. You may not have pulled the trigger but the fact that you're on the receiving end means that, whatever it was - probably a pitch or report you worked on for weeks - you're the one who's going to suffer because of someone else's screw-up.
  7. Do you really think your presentation went well? That's when you ask Was it really that bad? and the other person replies Um ... sorry to tell you this, but you'll be lucky if they don't can your whole project.
  8. Can I have a word with you in private? Not that good news is always delivered in public, but even when someone wants to chat with you about something innocuous, he won't say it like that. He'll opt for something like Where can we talk or You're not gonna believe what I heard.
  9. Um ... how long did it take you to do that? That's usually followed by something like a recommendation that you do it over and way, way better if you want to keep your job.
  10. You've been served. Not much you can do about this one, considering you've already blown it by answering yes to the magic question, Are you [your name]? Whether you're served at work or not, it really doesn't matter. You're going to wish it never happened.
Did I forget to say that I've either said or heard every single one of these lines? In some cases, both. It's true. And you know I've never been a process server.

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