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.
[See 50 Best Careers for 2011.]
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.
[See How to Ask for a Raise.]
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 percent 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.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.