NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When you need a day off or have questions about your career, your boss is the best source of information you could hope for. Many employees chat with their managers every day about everything from new accounts to what's for lunch. But even if you and your boss are buddies, there's still a line between manager and subordinate that shouldn't be crossed — especially when it comes to small, nit-picky questions that can annoy your manager and make you look helpless.
Even if you're tempted to ask your boss about everything on your mind, some things are best worked out with a colleague or kept to yourself. We checked in with experts to find the top 10 types of questions you should never ask your boss.
1. "How do I do this?"
If you ask this question, your boss will feel you don't even have the "basic competencies" to perform your job, says Morag Barrett, CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR and leadership development firm.
"Instead say, 'I'm considering X, what are your thoughts?'" Barrett says. "Coming into the conversation with at least a suggestion shows you've thought it through."
If it's a job you've never done, start by doing some research — your colleagues can help get you started. The important thing is that you demonstrate the drive to learn.
2. "What are we here for?"
"Please don't walk into a meeting without a clue as to why you're there," Barrett says. "Arriving at a meeting unprepared and then announcing it is just the worst."
Even if you haven't had time to do all the required reading before a meeting, prepare as best you can and be attentive to what's being said once you're there, she says.
3. "Why did Jon get promoted when I have more time in the position?"
Serious questions about your career trajectory should be asked only if you're engaged with your boss during an official review, and even then, you should take a more confident approach, says Russ Hovendick, founder of Directional Motivation, a career resource consultancy.
"It's natural curiosity to want to know why you got passed over, but it should be addressed at a targeted time," Hovendick explains. "Also, make it positive — 'I notice that Jon got a promotion and I'm happy for him. I'd like see how we can formulate a plan that might lead to promotion for myself.'"
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4. "Why do we have the temperature set the way it is?"
"Your boss is not the maintenance man. He probably hears people complain several times a day, 'It's hot in here,' 'It's so cold in here.' The only thing it makes him think is: 'Oh my god, grow up!'"
Instead of annoying your boss with facilities issues, reset the temperature yourself or contact your building manager for help, Hovendick suggests. You could also take a survey of your colleagues' "ideal temperature" and make a formal request to have your office kept at a consistent temp year-round.
5. "How long before you retire?"
When you ask this question, you're basically asking, "How long are you planning on staying?" Hovendick says. Unfortunately, it's going to make your boss think one of two things: that you're out to get their job or that you think they're too old for the job, and both have serious negatives attached.
"Why do you really need to know that?" Hovendick asks. "They may be trying to retire and they can't, and you're just going to make them sad or frustrated."
6. "Is the office closed on Columbus Day?"
Questions about HR policies are procedures are to be avoided at all times, says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders.
"When your manager makes time to speak with you, make it count," Augustine says. "Instead of squandering it away with questions that are below your boss' pay grade, focus on matters that only he or she can answer."
Whether you're new to the company or simply forgot the details of a policy, it's best to direct your questions about holidays, official vacation policies and your benefits to the Human Resources department. Or better yet, consult your company handbook to find the answer, Augustine says.
7. "What type of name tags should we buy?"
"You'll often find that leaders are 'big idea' guys and gals who want to talk about new initiatives in broad strokes. While they may lead the overall strategy of a project, they don't need to be bogged down with little details and cross-functional coordination that will need to take place behind the scenes," Augustine says.
Find out how involved your boss expects to be in the project so that you avoid asking for input on the smaller, more detailed levels of planning. You're more likely to be criticized for being indecisive, rather than praised for your thorough communication.
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8. "Where can I find more staples?"
"It is probably acceptable for employees to ask their boss for help finding something every now and then, but this should not become a habit," says Ann Butler, senior client liaison at HR consultancy Insperity.
Instead, turn to your colleagues, Butler suggests. Unfortunately, going directly to your boss with these questions might make them think you're unwilling to take the initiative to find answers to simple questions.
9. "Why do I have to do this? Will I get a raise for this?"
This type of question makes it seem like you don't care or that you only want to complete the minimum job requirements, Butler says.
"There is a time and a place to have discussions about compensation and performance pay, but asking about a raise for completing required tasks is unprofessional," she explains. "Managers don't usually give raises to employees based on their assigned duties or the completion of one additional project. Employees are more likely to get a raise for going above and beyond their job description on a consistent basis."
10. "What's your spouse like?"
Even if you're "friends" with your boss, Hovendick says this kind of question can really leave the wrong impression.
"Your boss is going to think, 'Why are you asking me this? Why do you care?'" he says.
It's perfectly acceptable to ask your boss if they have weekend plans with their family, but asking for a rundown of their spouse's personality traits is crossing the line.
"If you force that closeness, you're going to head into an uncomfortable zone," he says.
— By Kathryn Tuggle