It seems that, in the universe of verbal gaffes, none of us is immune.
Even — gasp! — the boss.
Now then, what about you as a small-business owner, the manager of your employees? What things should you never, ever say to them?
With thanks to the ongoing feedback from a variety of readers, I'm providing a sampler of Here are some comments directed to an employee,which can only do harm to your business. Included as well are some alternatives to ponder.
"Just make it happen."
This was suggested by several readers and justifiably so. If ever there was a remark that conveyed both condescension and laziness, it's this dog. In a mere four words, you're treating your employee like a coolie, not to mention abrogating 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 Dilbertesque wretch, sad to say, has an element of truth to it — all of us need to direct our working energies in the most efficient means 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 grouping sales calls according to geography can save both time and effort. 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 — certain members of my family being the obvious exceptions — 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.
See above. This is a particularly insulting, demeaning version, not to mention sophomoric. Leave this one to the tongue-studded teens at the mall.
"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 being sentenced to hang until you cheer up. 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 despotic blowhard. 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's needlessly intimidating. Someone not performing up to snuff? Fine. Talk it out with them, direct them how to improve 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 country’s attorney general.
"I don't pay you to think."
If you believe this verbal smack upside the head went out with pomade and rumble seats, think again. I overheard it just the other day in a grocery store. Any manager or business owner who ever spews this stuff ought to pay someone to think, because he's certainly not up to the task himself. 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?