1. “THAT’S NOT IN MY JOB DESCRIPTION”
So if you’re asked to do something that’s outside your purview, don’t be so quick to push back. Rather, be a good sport and comply, especially if it’s the first time you’re being put in that position.
Furthermore, if you’re going to push back, do so on the basis of being too busy, as opposed to being too good for the lowly or undesirable task your manager attempts to assign. Saying, “I’m afraid that doing this will cause me to miss my project deadline” sounds a lot better than, “That’s not what you hired me to do.”
2. “THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAID”
In the course of our jobs, we’re often put in situations where there’s some miscommunication. But if that happens, and your boss calls you out for not following instructions, don’t bite back unless you have documented proof that your boss said what you claim he or she did, keep quiet.
Even if you have that proof–say, your manager sent instructions in writing, and is now backtracking and trying to put the blame on you–be polite about it. Pull up that email and say something like, “I really thought I was following these instructions precisely. Please show me where I went wrong, and let’s see how we can fix things.” It’ll spare your boss the embarrassment of being wrong, thus sparing you some backlash later on.
3. “IT’S NOT MY FAULT”
Even if you aren’t at fault, there’s a politically correct way to make that clear. It’s easy enough to claim that you’re not at fault and point a finger at your coworker instead. But rather than go that route, say, “I should’ve done further diligence before relying on Bob’s numbers. I’ll be happy to run those calculations again and get you a more spot-on estimate.” This shows a degree of maturity that your manager will no doubt appreciate.
4. “IT CAN’T BE DONE”
Maybe your boss wants you to turn around a major report in two hours, when you know it would normally take five to get that sort of task done. Tempting as it may be to throw your hands up in the air and state that it can’t be done, find a way to get it done to some degree. You might say, “I can turn around the first half of this report in time, and then prioritize the remainder first thing tomorrow.” It’s not a yes, but it’s also not a no, and that might be just enough to appease your manager.
5. “IT’S NOT FAIR”
You never know what weight your other colleagues are pulling, and what they’re sacrificing to get their jobs done. You also may not know what rewards your boss is secretly planning for your solid effort (more money, perhaps), so before you complain about things being unfair, take a step back and try to power through.
Now if it becomes obvious that your boss is blatantly treating you unfairly–say, you’re always working late while every other member of your team clocks out at 5 p.m. Try, “With all due respect, it seems like I’ve been pulling some long nights at the office lately. Can I help bring some other folks up to speed on these issues to better divvy up the load?”