Frankly, there are a host of things a manager never wants to hear from a member of his staff. But here are three of them that could strike fear in the heart of your manager simply by their implications:
1. "I'd like to keep this between you and me, but I thought you should know."
This statement is a potential headache for the same reason it would be a headache if exchanged between two friends. Basically, you know you're going to be given information you're not going to like, and that you won't be able to do anything about.
I once had an employee tell me that one of my staffers had been in my office and helped herself to some confidential information from a paper I had on my desk. (I learned from that day on to lock up everything before stepping away from my desk.) The problem was, if I confronted the person who was snooping, then I would have to expose the person who told me because he was the only person she shared the information with. In the end, I decided I had to confront her.
In some companies, if a manager is alerted about a possible sexual harassment situation but says or does nothing at the request of the person who shares the information, he or she could be held accountable legally.
2. "How does the company define pornography?"
You already know that this leading question is fraught with danger. Obviously, it's being asked because this person has A) been caught viewing questionable content, or B) seen said content on someone else's computer.
This is really common in IT, where techs have access to everyone's computers. Whatever the answer is, you know the question is going to open a can of worms in some form or another.
3. "Oh oh."
The other day I had to have a routine test done at the hospital. The nurse was putting in my IV, and I looked away because I'm uncomfortable with needles. I felt a little jab, and then she said, "Oh oh." NOT what you want to hear.
It's also not what you want to hear from a staff person who is, say, working on the CEO's PC, backing up company data, or updating code for an enterprise application.
Like I said, there are many others, but this is a start.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.