Five things a manager should never say to an employee

Whilst browsing through the question and answer website Quora this week I came across a comment feed about the "worst advice you've ever been given".

The responses were certainly varied. People were told to quit their jobs, abandon their relationships and one poor guy was advised to fix his car tyre by attacking it with a pocket knife ("There was a deafening explosion that threw me back five feet!").

Despite these responses being a little (extremely) random, the thread got me thinking. As managers, we have a real responsibility to ensure the advice, instructions or remarks we offer employees are measured, logical and cannot be taken out of context.

In short, we don't want to make a comment that metaphorically blows an employee into the air!

Action and reaction

That's not to say I always get it right. I'm a fast-talking over-sharer, but after 14 years in business I've learned the hard way that poorly-worded sentences (even with the best intentions) can have long term consequences. Words can damage an individual's morale, altering the results of a project or simply confusing them.

So, leaders take note because your employees are always listening. Here are thoughts on which sentences you'd be best to keep to yourself.

"God, I hate Monday!"

Even if you've got out on the wrong side of bed and the thought of having to endure 120 hours until Friday makes you shudder, don't voice it. As the boss, entering the office and declaring your hatred of the M-word isn't going to motivate your team one bit.

I've even seen team leaders Tweeting the hashtag #IhateMondays when their company name is clearly visible in their bio. It's a horrendous look and I've come down hard on my senior team leaders whenever this culture has crept in.

Managers are only human and allowed a bad day (or to occasionally dread the upcoming week) but if a fish rots from the head, so does a company. You don't have to be ultra-happy all the time, but blanket statements like "I hate Mondays" or "the weekend is over" followed by a big sigh will crush your company's positivity.

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"That's not really your job…"

I love it when one of my team comes to me with an idea that isn't really in their job description. Some of the best innovations in my company have been the result of someone in editorial coming up with an idea for advertising or a junior graphic designer pitching something to the head of events. I would never shut down such ideas, I'd be thrilled at such cross-pollination.

At our office and at many start-ups, this kind of behaviour is a mainstay, but if you're in a larger or more political working environment, it could be seen as threatening. I believe there is a way to handle it sensitively so nobody's nose is put out of joint.

Arrange for the person with the bright idea to meet up with the appropriate team member to discuss it. You never know when today's admin girl could be the web wizard of the future.

"You never say anything in meetings"

There are proven benefits of having a team of both introverts and extroverts. This means respecting an individual's own work, at their own volume. Not everyone is suited to loud, chatty brainstorming sessions and not everyone enjoys standing in front of a room and making a presentation.

Learn to read your staff members, take note of their natural characteristics and customise how you ask them to give feedback. It could be as simple as asking for an email with bullet-point ideas rather than a verbal performance with a crowd of confident extroverts as the audience.

"But the data says…"

I believe some bosses fall into the trap of marking success by simplistic measures. I understand why it's tempting to judge a project on the raw data – how much money it made, how many people it reached – but this can present a very two dimensional view of an outcome.

Look at the bigger picture – maybe a project didn't make a big profit, but did it boost your company's profile, which will then lead to more work, with more income in the future. That's not to say data doesn't matter, but look at the effect on marketing, publicity and social currency as well as crunching the numbers.

"You're not as stressed as me!"

You know what? You might feel like you are under more stress than the rest of your team at times and any manager knows that with every new stage of leadership comes a host of new problems. However, you probably couldn't have handled last year what you can handle today and that is the same for your staff.

Everyone has their own stresses in life and what each person can handle is unique. Consider personal context, what is going on in your staff's personal life (even the best of us can't always compartmentalise) – even the amount of sleep they had the night before.

Never discount the stress of others, but do your best to protect yourself from overload so you have capacity to help your staff when they're feeling the pressure.

What's the worst advice you've ever been given? Let us know in the comments section.

The founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective, a monthly business and lifestyle magazine, Lisa Messenger has become a leading authority on the business world, specialising in entrepreneurship and disruption. She has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and three times been a finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year awards.  

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