10 Common Responses You Should Never Utter to Employees

If you want happy and productive workers, avoid these sometimes trite, oftentimes dismissive phrases and take a more direct approach to communication.

10 Common Responses You Should Never Utter to Employees

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We all overuse certain words and phrases. (Myself definitely included: I’m guilty of ending sentences with “... so ...” when I’m not sure what else to say.) That’s natural. But if you’re a boss hoping to communicate effectively — or be taken seriously — that’s also a real problem. Platitudes aren’t just annoying.

Resorting to platitudes shows you don’t want to listen, don’t want to take action ... and in short, don’t want to buckle down and do your job. Here are 10 phrases to watch out for and avoid in your conversations with employees:


1. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Whatever happened, fate had nothing to do with it. Something went wrong. Figure out what went wrong, and learn from it. Plus, “It just wasn’t meant to be” places responsibility elsewhere, and when it’s someone else’s fault, it never gets fixed. On the other hand, “Let’s figure out what we can do differently next time” is empowering — and it places the responsibility where it should be: on you.


2. “That’s probably not what you want to hear.”

No doubt it sucks to hear bad news. But when you say something isn’t what I want to hear, you shift the issue over to my side of the table. Somehow the issue has become my problem. Don’t shift. Explain why you made a decision. Explain the logic. Explain your reasoning. I still may not want to hear it, but that way, the focus remains on the issue and not on me.


3. “Work smarter, not harder.”

What happens when you say that to me? One, you imply I’m stupid. Two, you imply that whatever I am doing should take a lot less time and effort than it does. And three, after you say it, I kind of hate you. If you know I could be more efficient, tell me how. If you know there’s a better way, show me how. If you think there’s a better way but don’t know what it is, say so. Admit you don’t have the answer, and then ask me to help you figure it out. And most importantly, recognize that sometimes the only thing to do is to work harder ... and when that’s the case, get off your butt and help me.


4. “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Sure there is. There are as many I’s as team members. Those individuals, the more “individual” the better, serve to make the team stronger. The best teams are often a funky blend of the members’ individual talents, perspectives and goals. If you want a team to work hard and achieve more, make sure each person feels they can not only achieve the team’s goal, but also individual goals. Spend time figuring out how each individual on the team can do both, instead of taking the lazy way out by simply repressing individuality in the pursuit of the collective.


5. “Perception is reality.”

Yeah, yeah, I know: How I perceive something is my version of reality, no matter how off my perception might be. But if other people perceive a reality differently than you, work to change that perception. Make your reality everyone’s reality. Besides, perceptions are fleeting and constantly changing. Reality lasts forever, or at least until a new reality comes along to replace it.


6. “I’m always open to feedback.”

You see and hear a similar line everywhere: websites, signs, meetings. If you truly want feedback or input, don’t be passive. Don’t just make it easy for people to provide. Go get it. Be active. People who really want feedback don’t wait to receive it. They take responsibility for getting the information they need.


7. “We’ll do it now and apologize later.”

Say that and you’re not a bold risk taker; you’re lazy and self-indulgent. Good ideas are rarely stifled. People naturally like “better.” People who don’t like your idea usually aren’t the problem. The problem is almost always you. So don’t take the easy way out. Describe what you want to do. Prove it makes sense. Get people behind you. Then, whatever you do has a much better chance of succeeding.


8. “Failure is not an option.”

This one is often used by the leader who gets frustrated and wants to shut down questions about a debatable decision or a seemingly impossible goal: “Listen, folks, failure is simply not an option,” he says, striking the table with his fist. Failure is always a possibility. Just because you say it isn’t doesn’t make it so. Don’t reach for a platitude to end debate. Justify your decision. Answer the hard questions. If you can’t, maybe your decision isn’t so wise after all.


9. “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.”

Because hey, some other wheel might turn out to be a better wheel, and that means my wheel isn’t so great. And we can’t have that.


10. “It is what it is.”

No it isn’t. “It is what it is” really means “I’m too lazy to try to make it different, so for gosh sake, stop talking about it.” Don’t like a situation? Work to fix it. That’s what leaders do.



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