It seems that in the universe of verbal gaffes, none of us is immune
Even — gasp! — the boss. In recent months, I've heard things that should never be heard in a business setting. Some are remarks that clients should never overhear; the other comments that you and your staff should not have to put up with from a client. Now then, what about you as the manager of your people? What things should you never, ever say to them? With thanks to the ongoing feedback from a variety of delegates on our management courses, I'm providing a taste of the sort of comments that, directed to an employee, can only do harm to your organisation – and may get you into trouble under the heading of ‘bullying in the workplace’. Included as well are some alternatives to ponder. Again, this is a sample of the remarks I think are the worst.
• "Just make it happen." If ever there was a remark that conveyed both condescension and laziness, it's this one. In a mere four words, you're treating your employee like a slave, not to mention avoiding any responsibility for getting things done. Rather than put your foot in your mouth all the way up to your kneecap, if there's a problem with something you've requested, ask your employee to spell it out. From there, work together to address it.
• "You need to work smarter, not harder." This is pure ‘Management Speak’ and could make me lose my lunch. But, sad to say, it has an element of truth to it — all of us need to direct our working energies in the most effective way possible. But this worn-out cliché is, at heart, so hollow and lacking in genuine guidance, it's long since lost even a shadow of whatever oomph it may once have had. Instead, opt for real details when urging your people to use mind instead of muscle. For instance, illustrate how calling a client before mailing the invoice is courteous and that clarifying any concerns immediately improves recovery immensely. That shows real involvement and direction, not lame lip-service.
• "That's a no-brainer." I get facial tics every time I hear this one, particularly in a professional setting. First, everyone has, in fact, a brain. Second, every task, no matter how simple or menial, involves some cerebral activity. To suggest one or the other is insulting and demeaning, and isn't likely to motivate employees to new heights of performance. How about, "That's what I was thinking, too," or some other form of confirmation? A lot more uplifting.
• "Well, duh." See above. This is a particularly insulting, demeaning version, not to mention childish. Leave this one to the tongue-studded teens in the shopping centre.
• "I don't want to hear any excuses." Granted, no one wants to put up with an employee who seems to have a convenient rationale every time something heads south. Still, this rather harsh form of confrontation does little more than back someone into a corner with an accusing finger armed and ready. Instead, try to give your people a chance to explain what happened with a focus on fixing what went wrong — not merely attaching blame.
• "You're lucky I don't fire you." This is akin to ‘the floggings will continue until morale improves’. Seriously, this definitely ranks as one of the bottom feeders in the pond of business thinking. Again, everyone makes mistakes. But threatening them with dismissal is not merely ineffective and disheartening; it usually comes across as pretty idle. Your employee is either scared to death or laughing under her breath — meanwhile, you come off as a fool. Don't lose your cool. Rather, review what may have gone wrong and discuss ways to improve employee performance.
• "I've got my eye on you." Unless you're Long John Silver or some other patch-sporting buccaneer, this is yet another verbal belch that is needlessly intimidating. Someone not performing up to snuff? Fine. Talk to them about how they might improve, give them some ideas and monitor them appropriately with candid, upfront reviews. Leave the "you're never out of my sight," Spy vs. Spy stuff to others — like the Inland Revenue & Customs.
• "I don't pay you to think." If you believe this verbal smack across the skull went out with wide lapels, think again. I overheard it just the other day in a DIY store. The manager who spewed this stuff ought to pay someone to think, because he's certainly not up to the task himself. (Although, I agree, it would be helpful if the poor chap on this occasion did think!) Instead, let your people know that, in fact, you welcome their thoughts and feedback. As far-fetched as it may seem, they may come up with an idea that somehow, some way, didn't occur to you. In the end, you wind-up with something that will help your business grow and your employee has the satisfaction — perhaps in more than one form — that she's contributed something of value. That's a real no-brainer, right? (Tic… tic…!)
Have a look at our section on Better Managers to get further ideas Now, while management training might not be top of your organization’s investment aims in 2013, I bet you still aim to get the best out of your people. So, a short review of sound management practice might be just what your managers need to gain some pretty practical ideas on not being a ‘Muppet’ when trying to be a manager!