3 English Phrases You Should Not Use With Your Boss

When you talk to your boss, you probably try your best to be polite. The problem is that some of the phrases you might think are polite can actually be rude. Read on to find out the top three phrases you should never use with a boss or a client.

1. I would like you to … 

Some learners believe that “would” is a polite word and as long as you use it, you will sound polite. Unfortunately, this belief is misguided

“I would like you to …” is a good example of this. It may seem more polite than other possibly rude options like “I need you to … .” But in reality, it sounds like you are ordering someone to do something for you. 

For example, you might hear a teacher use it with their students. Or your manager might use it with you. But don’t use it yourself — unless you have the authority to tell someone what to do.

So don't say something like “I would like you to check the contract by Monday” to your boss. Instead, rephrase your request as a question.

Could you please check the contract by Monday? 
Would it be possible for you to check the contract by Monday?

A big reason questions sound more polite is because the other person has the option of saying “no.” You’re not ordering them to do anything — you’re giving them a choice. And that shows a lot more respect.

2. Please … .

“Please” is another word that’s tricky for learners. You might think it makes everything polite, but that depends on how you use it.

Your English teacher probably says “please” at the beginning of their sentences: e.g. “Please turn to page 5” or “Please put your books away.” Bosses and managers also use “please” like this: e.g. “Please assist Heather with this project” or “Please cancel my meetings this afternoon.”

But if you’re not in a position to tell people what to do, don’t use “please” at the beginning of a sentence. For example, you would sound rude if you said “Please reply by the end of today” or “Please check our proposal” to your boss.

Using "please" at the beginning of a sentence makes it sound like an order. To avoid this problem, rephrase your sentence as a question and use “please” at the end of it.

Could you check our proposal, please?

Another option is to use polite phrases like “when you get a chance” or “I would really appreciate it if” instead of “please.” Showing appreciation with phrases like “thanks” also helps you sound more polite.

Could you check our proposal when you get a chance? Thanks!
I would really appreciate it if you could reply by the end of today.

There are some exceptions to the “Don’t use ‘please’ at the start of a sentence” rule. For example, if you’re making a very small request, it’s acceptable to start with “please”: e.g.  “Please give me a minute” or “Please tell Joe I said ‘hi.’”

3. I expect you to …

Another phrase that learners mistakenly use is “I expect you to … .” It’s OK for a parent to use this with their children: e.g. “I expect you to be home by 9 pm” or “I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

But you should not use this with a boss, client, or even a coworker. If you say “I expect you at the meeting tomorrow” or “I expect you to arrive 10 minutes early,” they will think you are bossing them around and wonder “What gives you the right to expect me to do things?”

You can avoid this problem by rephrasing your request as a suggestion. 

I suggest arriving 10 minutes early if possible.
It would probably be a good idea to arrive 10 minutes early.

Depending on what you’re trying to say, you might also be able to use the phrase “I look forward to …” instead of “I expect you to … .”

I look forward to meeting with you tomorrow.
I look forward to our lunch tomorrow.

Want to find out whether your English is polite?

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