Please, Sarah, you’ve got to be friendlier on the phones!”
As soon as I said it, several years ago to one of my employees, I felt horrible. It wasn’t so much that I had said it- it was how I said it, in front of other employees. Sarah began to tear up, I pulled her aside and apologized, but the damage had been done.
Leaders must be sensitive to the fact that the whole team is looking up to them. Everything the boss says is magnified because it’s the boss saying it. Two weeks ago, I shared 17 things you should never say to your boss, and over 700,000 of you read it, so this week, I turned the tables, asking 17 bosses from fast-growing companies in the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what they thought the worst thing they could say to their staff is. Here are their answers- the 17 things the boss should never say- followed by mine:
1. “That Client Drives Me Nuts!”
We all experience crazy deadlines in a high-pressure environment. Passing along our feelings of stress to our staff can cause them to feel less motivated working for a particular client. Make sure they don’t lose sight of the fact that every single client is equally important, even if you have an 80/20 portfolio.
2. “I’m the Boss!”
No one wants to work for an organization that doesn’t respect their commitment level or humanity. If your co-workers wanted to take orders, they would have joined the army. Unless you are the military, avoid pulling rank. Every decision is a dialogue. Even if you do have the final say and aren’t in full agreement (which is probable), don’t make “I’m the boss” the ultimate reason for any decision.
3. “I’m Too Busy”
This statement is terse and shows a lack of empathy to the needs of your staff. It also makes your employees feel that what they are doing is not that important. Instead of telling them you’re too busy, try asking them to come back at a specific time when you do have availability. This gives them confidence that they have your ear, your respect, and your sincere care about the work they are doing.
4. “What’s the Latest Gossip?”
When you’re running a company, you set the tone for the workplace culture. If you gossip about staff members, it tells your staff that it’s okay to gossip, which ultimately sets up a toxic environment for team relationships. Leave the gossip at the door.
5. “What’s Wrong With You?”
It’s easy to get frustrated when your staff does something incorrectly but this question goes right to the heart of their competencies. It not only assumes that they have a fundamental flaw but it conveys that you’ve lost all trust in their abilities. It’s only downhill from there.
6. “You’re the Only One Having a Problem”
This will only isolate your employees. It will break your staff down and make them feel alone. I believe that a majority of the time, if you were to google a question or problem, you will find many others have similar issues and concerns, and are truly seeking an answer.
7. “I Don’t Care About That”
You need to care about every aspect of your business — small or large. If you let you staff know that you don’t care about something, why should they? Treat every aspect of your business the same and your staff will have more pride in their work.
8. “Do What I Won’t”
As business owners and bosses, we need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Never ask an employee to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. If I’m assigning a somewhat overwhelming or complicated task, I always make sure to offer myself as a helper or resource. Follow the guideline of leading by example. Get in the trenches with your employees if need be.
– Laura Land, CFO / COO, Accessory Export, LLC
9. “Don’t Argue With Me”
No boss should dissuade their staff from arguing or disagreeing with them. Sometimes you may be wrong, and it’s important to get that insight from your staff. Hearing their thoughts and ideas is crucial to building a business.
10. “We’ve Always Done it This Way”
Just because something’s been done a certain way for months or years doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to approach a problem. Empower your staff to think of new solutions. Openness breeds creativity, which in turn breeds innovation. And startups need all the innovation they can get, regardless of whether it comes from the CEO or an intern.
11. “Just Let Me Do It”
You can’t grow your company by doing everything yourself. If you feel you have to step in every time things get hard, your staff will never learn to be self-sufficient. Give everyone a chance to succeed and encourage management to do the same. You will build a stronger company.
12. “You’re Doing Okay”
When an employee asks for feedback, never tell them they’re doing an okay or fine job. Asking for feedback is a sign of potential; a desire to grow, change and get better. We typically have a good sense of what we’re good at, but we don’t always know what we can do better. Telling someone “you’re doing fine” without giving the gift of improvement is a hugely missed opportunity.
13. “This is MY Company”
That may very well be true on paper, but you won’t be much of a leader if you don’t have any willing “followers.” Being “in charge” is like being “cool” — if you have to say you are, you’re not.
14. “It’s Your Problem”
Maintaining an attitude of shared responsibilities with your employees is important to order to create the best experience and generate the best work. If an employee knows you feel personally involved in all tasks, they view their own work as being a valued part of a larger effort.
15. “This is Just a Small Client / Sale”
Teaching your staff to treat the high-paying clients or the big sales differently than smaller ones is a huge mistake. This sets up your company not only for bad customer service but also for arguments amongst your staff over who gets to work on which accounts.
16. “We Just Need PR”
Although PR is important, the staff should always be working to improve the product. Placing the focus on only needing PR insinuates that the product is complete and success is out of everyone’s control. Never make your staff feel like anything is out of their control.
17. “I Don’t Care What You Think”
This sentence can end many different ways. It could be “I don’t care what you think,” or “I don’t care if that’s what XX does.” Regardless of how the sentence ends, “I don’t care” is a phrase that shuts down conversations rather than encouraging dialogue. It suggests you aren’t open to considering others or their ideas. Exercising your role of power unnecessarily leads to a negative workplace.
These 17 things may not be the best things a boss can say to their team, but to me, the most important factor is tone, and the circumstances under which the boss is speaking. I’m a huge support of positive public praise: the more public praise I can give to individuals on our teams, the better. But if I ever have anything critical to say, or even anything that could possible be seen as critical by anyone in the room, I’ve learned the importance of making that conversation private. Because when the boss speaks, good, bad or ugly, people do pay attention.
Now it’s your turn. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard the boss say? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever been told at work? What do you think the worst thing someone can say to an employee is? Which of the above statements do you agree with, and disagree with?