Managing other people can be a tough job. It’s not unusual to have to deal with difficult situations, and it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. So when you have to give negative feedback or deliver unhappy news, you might find yourself resorting to the use of old tried-and-true phrases like “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Now don’t get me wrong – some old sayings are helpful and even comforting. (I kind of like that “darkest before the dawn” one.) But others may be sending the wrong message. Instead of motivating your team or helping them to understand a difficult situation, you may unwittingly be making things worse.

Author Jeff Haden has compiled a list of phrases that managers should never say. Here are five to avoid:

  1. “This is probably not what you want to hear.” If you have bad news to deliver, just say it. Don’t start by telling your employees that it’s not what they want to hear. It doesn’t soften the blow. And it shifts the responsibility off of you and onto them. You’re telling them that it’s their problem – you won’t be tackling it together.
  2. “There is no ‘I’ in team.” The best teams are comprised of people with different backgrounds, ideas, and skill sets. So it’s not helpful or beneficial to suggest that your employees should abandon their unique viewpoints and fall into line with the rest of the group. Open communication and an appreciation for new ideas help to strengthen teams – not weaken them.
  3. “Work smarter, not harder.” This one is so mean. If you say this to your employees, you’re telling them that they’ve been going about their work in a stupid way. Insulting your employees won’t motivate them to try harder.
  4. “Failure is not an option.” This is a good one if you want to increase your employees’ level of stress and unhappiness. Failure is always possible, no matter how much you might work to avoid it. So telling your employees that it’s not an option is putting a huge burden on them. No pressure or anything.
  5. “It is what it is.” This phrase shuts people down. You’re basically saying that the situation is not going to change, so you don’t want to hear any feedback from your employees. If you say this, you’re preventing your employees from sharing their ideas and possibly making the situation better.


Haden, J. (2017, August 23). 19 things great bosses refuse to say (and terrible bosses say all the time). Inc. Retrieved from