Actions can speak louder than words, but where your employees are concerned, words can still be motivation and morale killers—especially when you use the wrong words.
Here are things bosses should never say to employees:
1. “Good idea—but if you also….”
Successful—and unsuccessful—people often try too hard to add value. While you may be able to improve on an employee’s idea, and while it may be easy for you to map out an implementation plan based on that idea, when you immediately take over you run the risk of killing their motivation.
Instead, say, “Wow, that’s a really good idea.”
Then ask questions. Ask how they came up with the idea. Ask about their reasoning behind it. Ask how they think it should be implemented. Often the employee will already have the answers, and if not, you can gently guide them in the right direction.
From an employee’s point of view the best ideas are almost never your ideas. The best ideas are their ideas—deservedly so. When an employee comes to you with their idea, make sure it stays their idea.
2. “Don’t forget who is in charge.”
Dealing with different opinions or even open dissent is challenging for anyone. It’s easy to feel defensive and insecure.
Never fall back on, “I’m in charge” to end a discussion with employees. Your employees know you’re in charge; saying so destroys any feelings of collaboration, teamwork, and “we’re all in this together.” When you can’t back up a decision with data or logic, that decision is almost never the right decision.
So don’t be afraid to back down. Don’t be afraid to say your initial opinions or decisions are wrong. Employees respect you even more when you admit you made a mistake.
3. “I have a great opportunity for you!”
“Great” opportunities are almost never great, since the phrase is typically followed by the “opportunity” take on additional work or handle a project no one wants. Say, “Alice, next week you’ll start working on a new project with our best customer,” and Alice knows it’s a great opportunity. If you say, “Alice, this will be a great opportunity for you: Next week we need you to sort out all the problems in the warehouse,” then Alice knows she just got stuck.
Truly great opportunities require no setup. Don’t sell; you’ll only leave your employees feeling sold.
4. “I am so looking forward to hitting the slopes at Gstaad.”
Some people assume their employees will be inspired by their (conspicuous) success.
Most are not. The more you talk about how successful you are, whether overtly or implicitly, the more your employees can start to think, and resent, that your success is based on their hard work.
Is that fair? No. Does it happen? Absolutely.
Be humble. Wear your success with grace and tact.
5. “Sure, I’ll be happy to talk to your brother about a job.”
The smaller the company the less you can afford interpersonal problems, especially those created by cliques and “alliances.” (Don’t some companies feel like an episode of Survivor?)
There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but think carefully before you hire an employee’s family member. Blood is always thicker than business, as it should be.
6. “I’ve had enough. I’m out of here.”
Perspective is everything. From your perspective being in charge is stressful, draining and often overwhelming. From the employee’s perspective you have it made.
Employees don’t want to feel your pain, so never expect them to empathize. If you must talk about a hard day’s work, talk about how the day was challenging and everyone pulled together to make great things happen. Or share how much you appreciate your employees’ help.
Always turn a difficult day into a way to recognize how hard your employees worked, not how hard you worked.
Saying no is okay as long as “no” is not followed by a period. Explanations are always required when you refuse a request or turn down an idea—even if the reasoning behind the decision seems obvious.
As a boss, “Explain, explain, explain” should appear near the top of your list of duties.
We is a powerful word—except when it’s not. Employees can tell when you pay lip service to “we.”
In public, say “I” when your company or someone who works for you makes a mistake. Say “we” when your company or team does something well.
Inside your company, say “you” when your employees do something well, and say “we” when you do something well—because your success is always based on and built by the efforts of your employees.