A tough lesson to learn, in life rather than just in the office is that words have an effect on people. There is a reason for that: without words the world wouldn’t such. It is by words that we define our entire world, as it is language what separates us from other life forms in this planet.
It is by the use of words that our mind was able to expand and create as it helped us understand our surroundings. Words are to the mind what numbers are to a calculator: without them, it is just an empty box, a meaningless machine. This of course is my personal appreciation as I am no philosopher I’m afraid I can’t describe it any better than that.
There is no surprise in the fact then than words carry such a heavy weight in our lives. This known fact, that words sometimes might be heavier than lead, is the base of this post: as a manager, I’ve learnt that the effect words have in people are multiplied by the position you hold and what people expect from it, as much as what they expect from yourself.
The potential effect of your words gets amplified by your position: the more important that position you hold, the bigger the impact your words have.
Without trying to make it sound so ominous it is important that you know Impact can be a very good thing or a very bad thing depending on who you say these words to, how you say them and the context in which they are said.
That reminds me, never underestimate context nor channel: a word of praise said in the wrong meeting can mean something completely different to what you intend. Words of wisdom might pass for funny words if you don’t emphasize them. Constructive feedback might sound really bad if you give it in a closed, windowless room. The wrong comment to the right person will most certainly get noticed.
For more information around context and channel here’s a great read: Shannon’s Information Theory
. If you are really interested in how communications work, I suggest you give that article some time.
I am still working on my career and haven’t hold many management positions yet. The ones I have though have helped me uncover some of those words or phrases, which I am now sharing with you below this paragraph. I am sure there are many more and I prefer not to focus on just the good ones or the bad ones so consider this a work in progress.
Thanks / thank you!. When I was a kid, my mother and my father, my grandmother, my teachers used to teach us one thing: always say thank you. I believe that rule still applies no matter what. Thank people, say it out loud. It shows respect as well as modesty.
Amazing / awesome / great. Basically any adjective you use to describe something that surprised you in a positive way, or anything that shows progress or anything you consider good. Praise people more. Order them less.
Please. Same as with “thanks”, it is not just good form but it also shows respect and modesty. More so, don’t over-do it with this one. As a manager or a leader, you are supposed to impart a few things, but there is no reason for you to become a dictator. Don’t you just hate people that don’t even ask you but just order you around? Well, don’t be one of those, start asking. Saying please is exactly that.
Good morning / good afternoon / good night. Always keep the form right? Well, I think it shows a good predisposition to work to just come and say hi, and say bye when you leave. You, as a manager might need to look friendlier, and what’s friendlier than a person that says Hi in the morning and Bye in the afternoon?
Good job! Ok, I know this looks like a manual but trust me, sometimes the simplest things are the ones that make sense. Quick exercise for you: how many times have you told your longest standing employee “good job”? Or how long was it since you told that to someone in your team who is not necessarily a top performer? A little goes a long way and these are just 2 words that make a huge difference sometimes.
Help. Such an easy word to say and one of the most unused ones. It’s simplicity and it’s power are both amazing. Just ask for help, and you will get it. Add “please” to request it and “thank you” after you get it and I promise, magic happens: people will not only help you, but will be willing to go beyond that help and offer you some more in case you may need it.Try it. Ask for help when you don’t know what to do or even when you think asking for help might help others more than you.
NO. Ok, I have to admit this is a difficult one because you can’t just go around without saying NO to some stuff in life, but the point here is another one: how many times do you just say no because doing something it’s either too much work, or you don’t know how to do it and you don’t want someone to look at you as well, as if you didn’t know. There is nothing wrong it not knowing, but there’s a lot wrong in saying NO just because it’s your favorite monosyllable.
Wrong. As opposed to just saying “no, that is not correct”, we sometimes tend to think of things as them being right or wrong but most of the times they don’t fit in either one of those categories. We emphasize our dislike when we say something is wrong, and we are not kings or emperors so whims don’t look good on us. Even when something is wrong, there is always a better approach than actually using that word, like asking “what about a different approach?” or “have you considered this, or that?”
Fault. No matter if you use it to refer to you or someone else, you are a manager. Not a friend, not a brother or a father. You never place guilt on anyone, you only assign responsibilities and if those aren’t met then you can ask what kept the other person from acting on these, or doing what was expected. Fault is placed, meaning you assign it. When you say it, you are giving it to someone…and it’s a heavy burden you don’t want to impose on your employees. Specially because you want to motivate them, inspire them, not disappoint them or terrorize them.
I told you so. Who likes to hear that from your father, mother, friend, spouse or manager? Even if they are doing something that you know will end up wrong, and you offered advice and they wouldn’t listen, it doesn’t matter if it’s an employee, peer or your boss. Nobody likes to hear it. Not even you right? So don’t say it…as a manager, it is never about being right or wrong. It is about walking the walk, learning, and sharing.
Because I say so. On the same lines than “I told you so”. Nobody likes to hear something like that, but this one in particular, is a nasty one. This is probably the most effective way to push employees away from you. If you don’t get it, just think back when you were a teen and you would discuss angrily with your mother or father (or both) and after making endless arguments and trying to explain them whey THEY were wrong, they would just say “Because I say so”. If someone is pushing you hard enough for you to stop caring about finding the best possible answer and just wanting to dismiss them…breathe, and let them make their points. Once they are done, if you can’t enforce a point, bring HELP. Your boss, a peer like HR or another manager in your group, etc. Do as you wished your parents had done with you: take as long as it takes to explain, and explain and explain. Anything is better than “because I say so”.
You owe me. Unless you’re discussing lunch money because you bought lunch to someone who’s not paying back for like the 5th time, nobody owes you. That is again, unless it is absolutely explicit like with money, or something you loaned them. If it’s career, or prestige, or results…how do you think you look when you say they owe you? If its any of those or similar ones and you feel like they owe you I would recommend you think it over. Being a manager is being at the service of a lot of people. You work for them, regardless of who is hierarchically the boss.
You disappoint / embarrass me. Again, kind of brutal and personal…something most new managers under a lot of pressure will say. I know I did say stuff like this, and even worse I’ll admit…and I can’t be more ashamed. Even when I was that frustrated and angry with someone I shouldn’t have said stuff like that. It is the equivalent of opening a box of hand grenades, removing the pins, closing it again and sitting on top of it: you’re dead. Remember: you’re treating with adults and they deserve your respect, not your pity. You need to empathize with them, not make them feel bad…and they don’t owe you anything, you need to earn it.
There are so many more that I know I’ve said and I’ve learnt not to, but what about you? As an employee, what things do you wish your manager or boss had never said to you? As a manager, what words would you say or not say to your employees?
So many of them…and so many opportunities to just pick the wrong ones.
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