Whether you’re new to a job or you’ve been working with your manager for several years, what you ask your boss has the potential to bring your career to a screeching halt.
Annoying your boss with your unprofessional questions, however harmless they may seem, could show you to be incompetent, rude, or even a liability to the company, and it might end up costing you your job.
To help you avoid letting your mouth get the best of you, we asked experts to highlight some of the questions that are best left unasked.
‘Where’s the bathroom?’
The experts agree: steer clear of questions that you could easily research yourself or ask someone else at the company who is less busy than your boss.
‘Who,’ ‘What,’ ‘Where,’ ‘When,’ ‘Why,’ ‘How’ …?
There may be no stupid questions, says Vicky Oliver, author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions” and “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions,” but there are certainly annoying questions.
She tells Business Insider that playing ’20 Questions’ on every new assignment either shows you really don’t want to do the assignment or illustrates you only want to hear yourself talk.
“When you receive a new assignment, gather your questions, and pose them in an organized way,” Oliver suggests. “Never just spout out question after question off the cuff.”
‘Do I have to?’
Responding to suggestions or tasks with a pessimistic or contrary attitude makes you look uncooperative, says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an etiquette and civility expert and the author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom.”
And deflecting work with these kinds of negative questions could be detrimental to your career. In fact, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, a majority of employers – 62% – say they are less likely to promote employees who have a negative or pessimistic attitude.
Barbara Pachter, author of “The Essentials of Business Etiquette,” tells Business Insider that similar questions like “Will you give that assignment to someone else? I’m hung over,” “What’s in it for me?” and “Why do you keep giving me stupid assignments?” can also show you to be negative and lazy.
Do the job given to you, or your boss will hire someone else to.
‘Did you hear … ?’
“Spread gossip, and you become labeled as a gossip,” saysOliver says.
It’s best to act friendly toward everyone, Oliver explains: “You will come across as more of a team player and show you have management aptitude.”
And according to the same CareerBuilder survey, almost half of employers surveyed say they would think twice before moving up the ranks an employee who participates in office gossip.
“Take care that any criticism you make about someone’s performance is deemed to be constructive, measured, and deserved,” Oliver suggests. Not keeping the discourse civil could cost you your job.
“What’s his deal?’
“I would be careful about asking too many questions about office politics, too, before you have scoped out the lay of the land,” Oliver says. “If your boss seems to have a rocky relationship with someone on staff, don’t probe.”
Oliver says it’s best to let your boss come to you with any pertinent information about your coworkers and how things operate around the office.
‘What the f_ _k?’
“Using foul words or questionable language is not only a bad habit, but in most places of business, it’s still considered unprofessional and can even land you in Human Resources for a little chat,” Randall says.
Swearing demonstrates to others that you aren’t able to calmly and thoughtfully deal with a situation, and it could make you the last resort in an even more difficult or extreme dilemma, she says.
More than half of employers CareerBuilder surveyed say they consider vulgar language an indication that an employee is not ready for a promotion.
“Consider learning some new adjectives,” Randall suggests.
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‘Do you want to buy some cookies?’
It seems like almost every office has one or two people who sell cookies for their kids. This could be a bad move, Randall says.
Bombarding people with fundraising products or donations for a cause is unprofessional, unwanted, awkward, and obligating, she explains.
Randall says that some companies even prohibit soliciting at work because it takes up work time and places people in an awkward position. You’d be better off soliciting friends and family.
‘How much are you offering her?’
“This question is not only unprofessional, but awkward,” Randall says.
“There is a line between curiosity and nosiness, which you don’t want to cross,” Oliver says. Curiosity, she explains, is when you ask who the new hire is. Nosiness, on the other hand, is when you do some digging to figure out how much the woman three cubicles down earns.
‘Are you pregnant?’
This question rarely results in a positive outcome.
If your boss isn’t pregnant, and you ask if she is, then you’ve just insulted her, Oliver says. And if she is pregnant, there’s probably a reason you don’t know yet, and your boss likely isn’t ready to discuss it yet.
‘Can you take a look at this rash?’
“Except for maybe your mom or spouse, no one really wants to see or hear about peculiar rashes or any nausea-inducing medical conditions,” Randall says. “Limit your sharing to a cold or headache.”
‘Are you so sure about that?’
“Openly criticizing or pointing out your boss’s mistake is a sure way to be excluded from future meetings or ignored the next time you raise your hand to speak,” Randall says.
If you feel your boss has made an error, there are better ways of addressing this, she explains.
You might say, “I may be misinformed on this one, but I was under the impression that …” This prompts them to reconsider and correct the information if necessary without putting up their defenses. “Whatever phrase you use, say it with a helpful and cordial tone,” Randall says.
‘Where’s a good place to grab a bite to eat around here?’
“Until you know for a fact that your boss considers you a work friend, I would not ask your boss for her suggestions on where to eat lunch,” Oliver says. “Try to save the questions for things you really need them to weigh in on.”
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‘Do I get my birthday off?’
J.T. O’Donnell, founder of career-advice site CAREEREALISM.com and author of “Careerealism: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career,” says this question is a big no-no.
In the working world, there’s vacation time, which you can schedule at your discretion pending manager approval. But there are no “birthdays off.”
‘My breakup has got me all messed up. Can I take it easy today?’
Everyone has personal problems every now and then, which is when your professionalism will be put to the test, Randall says.
“Not to diminish your emotional wounds, but why should your boss’s needs be put on hold because you need time to process your breakup?” Randall asks. “This is when you might consider taking a ‘sick day’ or calling your mom for some love and tenderness.”
‘Did I tell you about last night’s hookup?!’
Sometimes a boss-employee relationship blossoms into a friendship. But sharing intimate stories at work may not be a wise move, Randall says.
“What if a coworker overhears the sizzling conversation? That may open you or your boss up to a sexual harassment or inappropriate conversation write-up,” she explains.
‘I need to renovate my kitchen. Any chance that I can get a raise?’
This is no way to negotiate a raise.
If you feel you truly deserve one, schedule a meeting with your boss, highlight your contributions and value added to the company, and discuss what a fair valuation for your work might be. The fact that you need to renovate your kitchen, take a vacation, or any other financial want should never enter the conversation.
‘I helped set up the chairs in the conference room. Do I get some bonus pay?’
“Being helpful is a great way to show that you to above and beyond your job description, but it all gets wiped away when you ask for recognition or pay,” Randall says.
‘I don’t have much to do today. Can I go home early?’
Pachter advises against ever asking to go home early because there’s nothing left for you to do.
This question doesn’t exactly convey the go-getter attitude employers want to see, and it could make you look like more of a financial drain on the company than an actual help.