In an ideal world, the idea of communicating with your boss shouldn’t be a source of overthinking and anxiety. Your boss is, after all, a human being just like you.
That being said, your interactions with your manager do inform your career more than casually catching up with your work buddies over coffee. The influence your boss can have on your success ends up inevitably affecting the power dynamic of the relationship, even if you have great rapport, trust, and communication (which, hopefully, you do).
Walking on eggshells to send an email to your boss would be an indicator of a deeper issue, but being mindful of why and when you’re reaching out can help you improve your relationship further as well as boost your chances of getting promoted.
So, before clicking on that send button, ask yourself whether sending an email to your boss is truly necessary, and what that email could reveal about you.
Because while big, pivotal moments such as pulling off an unlikely win under pressure can mean a lot for your career, the path to advancement is often paved one mundane interaction at a time — you might as well make those moments count.
And yes, there is such a thing as emailing too much or emailing for a reason that ends up hurting your reputation. Perhaps not always instantly, but it can erode trust over time. Here are 5 terrible reasons to send an email to your boss so you don’t end up accidentally undermining yourself.
1. To ask a question with an easy-to-find answer
Chances are, your boss has a packed schedule. Anything you do to make her life easier and save her precious time will be greatly appreciated. On the other hand, firing off an email to ask a question that could’ve been answered through a quick Google search or via other channels or less-senior people is not the best look.
Aim to be proactive and develop the judgment to know when you should truly ask for your boss’ input. If you have a tendency to overask, dial it down. If you’d rather apologize than ask for permission, maybe you could afford to ask questions more often. But in any case, you want to make sure they’re relevant questions — not ones that demonstrate a lack of resourcefulness.
2. To vent, complain or gossip
Even if you have a super close relationship with your boss, it’s best not to get into the habit of reaching out to vent, gossip, or complain.
At best, you’ll bond over internal politics, which can quickly backfire. At worst, you’ll end up making yourself look bad or appearing overly negative and even toxic. Highly successful professionals tend to be empowered, positive (that doesn’t mean unrealistic, but it sure means they lift others up), and solutions-oriented.
3. To solve a problem without first having assessed the situation
There are times when your boss’ decision-making or feedback will be critical, and when not sending an email would be a bad idea, even in terms of giving her visibility into a critical issue. Think problems involving important customers, internal conflicts, and big mess-ups.
But in those times, it’s especially important to take a step back before reaching out. You don’t want to be too quick to send an email worded in a hurry while you’re still in reactive mode. And you also don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to act like an A-player.
If you highlight an issue and demonstrate that you’ve looked into it, have assessed the stakes and potential repercussions, and are armed with potential solutions, you’ll definitely make a good impression.
4. To make someone else look bad
The good-old CC escalation might work in some cultures, but do you really want to be that person? If your boss is a great leader, she might catch onto your attempts of making a coworker look bad over an email thread by looping in more senior team members. And she might conclude that it says something negative about you.
If you want to shine and highlight your awesomeness, it’s always better to do so while lifting your teammates up — not bringing others down. Unless you really have to cover your own back for other reasons, it’s best to avoid looping in bosses on passive-aggressive internal conversations. Because everyone knows what that move means.
5. To quit your job before a verbal convo
Quitting your job? Perhaps you’re dreading the face-to-face convo with your boss. Maybe you’re afraid she’s going to try to retain you and you’ve already accepted another offer.
While you should always follow your verbal resignation with a written one (email is fine in most cases), the last thing you want to do is ambush your boss by quitting over email before meeting in person.
Even if you’re leaving the department or the company, it’s important to leave on a classy note and avoid burning bridges. So try to avoid resigning by email at all costs.