stream of life

Top 10 Things You Never Want to Hear at Work

by Steve Tobak

Whoever came up with the expression, “It’s better to give than to receive,” must have been talking about bad news.

Of course it’s awful 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 cancel 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.


Given the pink slip is regrettably not uncommon in today’s economy. This message will earn me many thumbs down, but I think it’s critical that you know what you’re up against in today’s business world. I am not a cheerleader for corporate America or for employers. My intention is to let you know what you’re up against. These may be things you find unimaginable and outrageous.

Here are 13 things you need to know:

(1) Age discrimination is prevalent in the workplace (although it’s illegal);
** Older and younger employees are passed over for promotions, and are among the first to be let go.
(2) Your relationship with your boss outweighs your talents/performances in the workplace Who do you think decides whether you stay or go?
(3) Stellar performance can be an asset; it an also be a liability to your company.
***Many employees mistakenly believe that their capability is all it takes to remain employed or be promoted. No matter how smart you think you are, if your boss perceives your smarts as a threat (because it makes him look bad), he will find a way to remove you.

(4) Your appearance does matter. Appearance is the first thing they’ll look at when they interview you for that position. Fair or not, overweight people are frequently discriminated against in the workplace;

(4) HR is NOT there to safeguard your rights. They’re there to protect the company from you. Expressing your grievances to HR can damage your career;

(5) Is there a difference between ‘being laid-off’ or ‘being fired’? Not really, unless the entire company went through financial ruin (So this begs the question: “why do employers beat around the bush? Why don’t they just say, ‘You’re fired’?”

ANSWER: to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits possibly lodged by you);

(6) Your company has an employee blacklist and you’ll never know if you’re one of them;

(7) You will never know if you did something wrong (in case you find yourself wondering “Why doesn’t my boss just tell me what I did wrong. Again, subtlety is the safest bet);

(8) If you’re in one of those ‘performance improvement’ programs set up by your boss because you did something wrong, your career is over and you better start looking for a new job asap.
(9) You’re not entitled to free speech in the workplace (You can say whatever you want, but your neck will be the first thing on your boss’ chopping block);
(10) It’s better to look for a job BEFORE you are being laid off (A person who has a job is perceived as more ‘qualified’ over someone who is out of a job.).

(11) In some companies, single employees are favored over married employees or single parent employees. WHY? B/c they’re the ones who can devote their time to raising profits rather than raising children.

(12) Were you sexually harassed by your co-worker? Were you offended by that sexist joke made by your boss? Do you feel discriminated against as a minority? You have every right to take the legal route to address your grievances but you will be among the first to be ‘laid off’.

SUGGESTION: You should try to settle it privately through an ombudsman or through a third party without getting your entire department involved. If that doesn’t work, you should take the legal route but be prepared to dust your resume and start looking for a new job. I know this may be unfair and downright offensive, but unfortunately, this is the way that the business world works).

(13) Your employer does check those emails and facebook messages you sent. Be careful about the message you send during working hours and pictures you post on facebook. It’s best not to post how much you hate your boss.


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