Sometimes you’re going to say the wrong thing. You’re human, after all – even the boss can commit a gaffe here or there.
But there are a few things you might be saying to your employees that are horribly demoralizing – and you don’t even realize it. Things that are in your daily rolodex of Perfectly Normal Things To Say that actually have a huge impact on office morale.
They may be well-intentioned. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still do damage.
Here are five things a boss should never say to employees.
“This is how we’ve always done it.”
This could come up in any number of contexts. You could be showing a newbie the ropes. You could be writing your company career page. You could be explaining a company policy. You could be nixing an out-there idea.
But no matter what the situation, this is not the phrase to use.
Why? Because it sends the message that the company is never going to change. It tells employees that you’re not open to creative ideas or suggestions. It’s essentially the grown-up version of “because I said so.”
And in reality, just because it’s the way you’ve always done it, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. There is nothing worse than archaic procedures or policies that continue to exist for no other reason than nobody has bothered to change them.
Truly great managers don’t just stick to the status quo – they seek to improve things, and listen to suggestions. And, if they’re turning down a suggestion, they provide a clear reason why.
“This is just a high-level overview.”
When you say this to an employee, it tells them one thing: that you haven’t taken the time to go through all the details of the project being discussed. That you’re going to ask questions that you should know the answers to. That you’re going to gloss over the crucial details and instead talk in ambiguous, broad terms.
We repeat this again and again when it comes to wooing job seekers, but the same thing is true for employees: don’t be vague. Ever. When you’re vague, you’re confusing. And when you’re confusing, your employees start losing faith in the company (and their boss).
If you find yourself using this phrase, take a step back. Ask yourself: what are you really saying? How can you be more specific about the goal of the conversation or meeting? What are you trying to achieve? Explain all this to the team members involved, so that they (and you) come to the meeting prepared.
“I’ll take it under consideration.”
Ask any employee and they’ll tell you: this is essentially a synonym for “I have no intention of considering what you’ve just said. Now get out of my office.”
If you’re using this phrase to get out of an awkward conversation, don’t. Part of being a leader is having tough, up-front conversations with your team. If for some reason you won’t be taking an employee’s suggestion under consideration, tell them why – they will learn from it.
But if you are using this phrase when you are truly planning on taking something under consideration, you might want to switch to a different choice of words. Even if you’re using it earnestly, this one has a lot of connotation behind it.
“Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
When an employee hears this one, they more or less see it as a straight up lie.
You’re the boss. There’s always something you can do. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a client change their mind on a nixxed proposal, or completely overhaul an HR policy. But it does mean you can communicate your team’s concerns to the relevant parties. Or, at the very least, discuss the issue in detail so that the employee feels heard.
And then, if there’s really nothing you can do about it, tell the employee why. Explain to them exactly why a particular policy is in place, for example, and the reasons why it can’t be changed or bypassed. Employees will appreciate that and understand the situation you’re in – and will likely hold on to that information if the issue arises again.
“Think outside the box.”
We can all appreciate the importance of creative thinking, or trying to do things in unique ways. But using a worn-out cliché like this one can have the opposite effect on people.
“People who believe they need to think outside the box have all missed a fundamental reality: It’s been a while since there was any ‘box’ in business. There may be a status quo, but nobody goes there any more.”
Furthermore, it’s another vague request. What are you actually asking for? Asking your team to be creative isn’t enough – what exactly do you want from them? Be specific and detailed, every time. Your employees will thank you.