This article was updated on August 4, 2021.
They say there are no stupid questions. But in the context of your relationship with your boss, there are certain things you should avoid asking. Why? Because even in the most casual work cultures, your boss is still your superior and her impression of you and your work will have an impact on important organizational decisions that can affect your chances of success.
It’s not about being paranoid and walking on eggshells whenever you talk to your boss — you do want to be true to yourself — but about being mindful of questions that could potentially be detrimental to your career.
Here are seven things you should never ask your boss (unless you want to risk your reputation).
Anything you could easily find out yourself
Being proactive and taking initiative is a surefire way to find yourself on the fast track to a promotion. Want to impress your boss? Make her life easier.
On the other hand, asking your boss things you could easily find out on Google or through someone with way fewer responsibilities can undermine your professional credibility and even turn you into a burden. Save your one-on-one time with your boss to dive into higher-level goals and priorities or challenges that do require her input (but come prepared with a couple of potential answers and solutions if you want to shine).
“How much do you make?”
While knowing how much your boss makes could turn out to be a great motivator for advancing your career, you never want to ask that question directly. Making your boss uncomfortable is not the greatest way to build a fruitful relationship. Instead, ask yourself why you want to know. If it’s because you are curious about increasing your own earning potential, it would be more productive to start having conversations about your career development. You can also use platforms like PayScale to gauge your salary against market benchmarks for similar positions.
A reference letter if you’ve underperformed
Even high achievers can have mediocre career stints — sometimes a role or company turns out to be a wrong fit in terms of allowing your potential to truly shine. But when that’s the case, it’s important to be self-aware and avoid asking for a reference letter. It’s a small world and people talk. Asking for a reference letter from an employer when you’ve underperformed during your time at the company could turn you into the topic of a conversation and paint you in an unflattering light.
To be friends on Facebook
Should you be friends with your boss on Facebook? There are many debates around the topic, and that’s exactly why you should steer clear of being the one initiating the invitation. Befriending your boss on social media is not necessarily a no-no — it all depends on the context and dynamic of your relationship. But since it’s such a gray zone and different people feel different ways about it, it’s safer to wait for your boss to initiate any friend requests.
“Would you like to go on a date?”
It would be unrealistic to ignore workplace romances: 22 percent of married U.S. couples met at work, and 27% of global respondents polled by Monster said they’d consider dating a coworker. But a supervisor-subordinate relationship is a major conflict of interest (not to mention the fact that manager-employee romantic relationships are prohibited by many companies and could get you straight-up fired). Just don’t go there — and do not ask your boss on a date.
A raise without any reasoning
You should be proactive about getting the recognition you deserve. Let’s face it, you’ll very rarely get a raise on a silver platter and not asking could actually demonstrate a lack of confidence and leadership skills. But asking for a raise without any kind of reasoning can be counterproductive and make you look entitled. And no, personal reasons such as the fact you are renovating your home or getting married don’t qualify as good reasons.
“Are you sure?”
You’re not hired to be a yes-person, and it’s great to bring constructive opinions to the table. Just make sure you’re not openly undermining your boss when you do so. Asking “Are you sure?” can demonstrate a lack of trust in your boss’ judgment, and doing it publicly might end up costing you invitations to future meetings. Instead, respectfully bring your concerns to the table privately and ask your boss for her input. Aim to focus on facts and keep your focus on shared positive outcomes.