5 discouraging phrases you need to avoid as a boss
The right delivery can make the difference between alienating your team—or inspiring A+ work.
No teachable moment should ever start with the phrase, “No offense, you probably weren’t even aware of this, but...”
Regardless of what words come next, the speaker has already communicated a dismissive attitude. Nowhere is this gaffe more potentially destructive than at work.
Words matter, especially when they’re coming from you, the boss. As a supervisor, you can’t afford to be insensitive, even by accident. “Often, a dismissive boss is pressed for time,” says John Baldoni, author of Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders, “and does not think about what he or she is saying.” Big mistake.
Monster rounded up five phrases that you should rethink or eliminate from your repertoire, as well as alternative approaches that can help you say what you mean, kindly and professionally.
“That’s a waste of time.”
Instance in which you might say this: You see an employee working on a task or project that doesn’t tie to the team’s current goals and priorities. You’ve been around the business for a long time, and you know what matters and what’s a time-waster.
What the other person actually hears: “I assume you don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t respect your ideas, so I’m shutting you down.”
New approach: Baldoni suggests a conversation with the employee that starts with, “Tell me about what you are trying to do.” Use additional questions to help the employee realize their actions might not produce the result they intended.
Suzanne Bates, author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results, suggests saying, “That’s an interesting idea. I recall we worked on a similar approach (talk about when) and (how it turned out). However, a lot has changed since then. Tell me more about what you have in mind.”
“You probably aren’t aware of this, but ...”
Instance in which you might say this: You see an employee making a mistake that you know they wouldn’t make if they knew a key piece of additional information.
What the other person actually hears: “I’m the boss, and I know more than you do.”
New approach: Baldoni suggests starting by emphasizing your own missed opportunity to keep everyone informed: “I am sorry, I neglected to tell you about this.”
Kelly Decker, co-author of Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action, notes that emphasis is crucial here. “Whether you emphasize you or this completely changes the meaning of this phrase,” Decker says. “You can make people feel more included, more supported and more validated by shifting the emphasis you use. The trick here is to make sure that the other person feels like the emphasis is this rather than on them.”
“I can’t help you there.”
Instance in which you might say this: An employee has asked you a question or requested help on a project or task that shouldn’t fall on your plate.
What the other person actually hears: “I’m not interested in helping you get the information you need.”
New approach: If the question would be better directed at someone else, help your employee connect with that person. For example, Decker says, you can give them specific direction, such as, “That’s something I haven’t experienced, but it really plays to Susan’s strengths. I’d like for you to talk to her—let me make an introduction.”
“No offense, but...”
Instance in which you might say this: An employee says or does something that you think is wrong or misguided, a probable result of their naiveté.
What the other person actually hears: “You said or did something foolish, and I’m about to insult you.”
New approach: Nix this phrase and its implications entirely. “It sounds immature and unprofessional,” Bates says. If you take issue something an employee said, begin your response with, “Here’s why I disagree.” If an employee did something incorrectly, take them aside and say, “I understand why you might have thought that was the best solution. But next time, I’d prefer it if you could handle it this way.”
“Never mind, I’ll take care of it.”
Instance in which you might say this: An employee’s mistake or inexperience is going to cause you more work in the long run, so you think it’s better if you take over.
What the other person actually hears: “I don’t trust you to do it, nor do I want to take the time to mentor or coach you.
New approach: You could try taking over the work temporarily, with the promise to explain more later about what went wrong. Baldoni suggests saying, “I did not give you enough time/information. Let me take it from here. Then when I am finished we can discuss so you will know how to do it next time.”
Or, you could help them make a plan right away. “The worst part about using this phrase, as a manager, is that it dumps all the work back in your own lap,” Decker says. “It’s better when you can take a step back and identify exactly what your direct report can do and how they can close the gap. It empowers your team, and it helps you.”