Boss Lady

Infographic: The worst things a manager can say to her team


A great manager knows how to get the best out of her team with the right motivational tactics, but knowing all the right things to say is not always easy. The way you communicate with your staff can have a huge impact on how they feel, which in turn impacts on their performance and productivity. Keep inadvertently upsetting them and you’ll have to replace them, while coming across as a pushover won’t be much more successful.

So how can you find the right words and tone to get your message across? Taking a ‘coaching’ approach is becoming more and more popular, with research showing that it can lead to an increase in engagement and productivity of around 12%. Coaching turns managing into a two-way process where the manager issues less commands and asks more questions and this approach takes away some of the worst communication issues.

However, there are still times when you might say the wrong thing, so Headway Capital has rounded up 11 phrases that should never come out of your mouth again, along with what you should say instead:

“I don’t pay you so I can do your job for you”

Sometimes as a manager, you need to be hands-on with your team and it can be frustrating if you don’t feel you can trust them to do a job on their own. But this doesn’t mean you should say as much in a dictatorial or threatening manner.

  • Instead, put the emphasis on them with a question like: “What would be your plan in a situation like this?”

“Nice job today!”

This might sound harmless enough, it’s just a compliment, right? The problem is that it’s such a vague compliment that it doesn’t sound sincere, and the recipient may well feel less valued than if you’d said nothing at all.

  • Instead, ask them about something specific they are working on, which shows that you’re paying attention.

“That customer drives me crazy!”

You might think that being totally open and honest with your team builds their trust, but if you are complaining about clients in front of them, you’re not setting a good example for their customer service work.

  • If a customer is driving you crazy, ask a constructive question like: “What do you think causes [client] to be a challenge for us?”

“Keep doing what you’re doing”

In a survey, nearly 60% of workers said they need feedback on a daily or weekly basis, but as with the vague compliment above, this one isn’t specific enough to mean anything and comes across as disinterested.

  • Say something more specific like: “You’re excelling with [project]. Are there any areas in which you wish to develop?”

“Don’t waste my time; we’ve already tried that before!”

Any great manager wants their team to come to them with new ideas, but if you shut them down as brutally as this, they’ll feel discouraged from trying it again. Instead you need to inspire them to keep on coming up with something new.

  • Try saying something along the lines of: “What other options do you see?”

“Why didn’t you do this?”

Another common frustration for managers is seeing their staff make an easily-avoided mistake or doing something a less efficient way than you would have done it. But asking them ‘why’ can make them feel defensive.

  • Instead you should consider asking them: “How can we improve next time?”

“I don’t have time to talk now”

As managers, our time is precious and it’s not easy to get your own work done when you’re constantly being doorstepped by your team. But you’ll make them feel unappreciated if you just turn them away.

  • Why not say: “I’d like to discuss this further but I’m busy right now, can we book in some time?”

“That’s not important”

Telling a member of your team that something they’ve raised isn’t important is dangerously close to saying that they aren’t important and will certainly make them feel like they aren’t valued.

  • It would be better to ask: “Explain to me what concerns you about this issue?”

“Was that clear?”

If you’ve explained something complicated to your team in a meeting, asking if they understand it might seem like the right thing to do, but asking it this way means they’ll want to avoid embarrassment by saying no, so they’ll all clam up.

  • Better to ask: “Could you walk me through the plan to make sure we’re on the same page?”

“Failure is not an option”

Motivating your staff isn’t the same as terrifying them or making them scared to make mistakes. The only thing this will achieve is reducing any innovation in your team because they don’t want to fail.

  • Instead, ask: “What is our backup plan if this idea doesn’t work?”

Leave your personal issues at home

Like you, your team has a life outside of work and no-one can prevent that creeping into their work life from time to time, so if someone comes to you with a personal issue, the way you deal with it will have a big impact on their view of you.

  • Be sensitive if you sense something is wrong and ask: “Is there anything that’s bothering you at the moment?”

So now you know 11 things you should never say to your team and have a better idea of the kind of things you should be saying instead, so get out there and see what a difference the right words can make.

Infographic: The worst things a manager can say to her team


About Marilyn Vinchy

Marilyn Vinchy is a freelance writer and HR specialist. She works for several marketing and public relations agencies, supporting their content teams. She writes about leadership, careers and personal development, and has a knack for productivity and time management techniques. You’ll find her on Twitter here, and you can also visit her blog.

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