Tag Archives: office communication

4 statements you should never tell staff

You are the boss, and employees are taking note of everything you say. Avoid causing morale, productivity, attitude and engagement problems by never uttering these four phrases:

  1. “I’m the boss.” You are, but that should never be your justification for making a decision—especially an unpopular one. If employees feel they have no say because “You’re the boss,” they’ll disconnect from the work.
  2. “That customer is driving me nuts.” If you speak badly of customers, employees will too. Emphasize that every customer is important to your business—even the most challenging ones.
  3. “You are the only one having issues.” That is likely untrue; other employees just haven’t gained the courage to talk to you yet. Also, you’ll make employees feel alone and helpless. Instead, work to alleviate all employees’ pain and stress.
  4. “Don’t argue with me.” Employees should question your ideas, point out flaws and make recommendations for improvement.

— Adapted from “17 Things the Boss Should Never Say,” Dave Kerpen, http://www.linkedin.com/in/davekerpen.

What to say when … a discussion has stalled

Your team members have discussed a subject to death without reaching consensus. Break the deadlock by “polling” team members. Polling allows team members to cast a nonbinding vote based on the information they have so far.

Say: “We’ve been going over these same few points for more than 45 minutes. Let’s take a quick vote and see what everyone would do if we had to make the decision right now. If we agree, we’ll move on to the next agenda item. If not, we’ll keep talking.”

If members resume their bickering, say: “Yes, you made that point earlier. But if we had to come up with a solution today, how would you cast your vote?”

Standardize verbs when giving technical instructions

When you write instructions for computer and software use, establish the following guidelines to describe keyboard actions. Write:

  • Press when a keyboard key interaction is required to perform a particular function. Example: Press Y to continue. Note: Do not use depress, strike, hit or type to describe those interactions.
  • Use for navigation purposes with an arrow key or when pressing multiple keys at the same time will initiate a command. Example: Use the arrow keys to move up and down in the document.
  • Type when a user should enter information that appears on the screen. Example: Type your user ID.
  • Click when the user manipulates the computer mouse to make a selection. Example: Click the File menu.
  • Select when marking or highlighting text in a document; when adding checks to checkboxes; or when picking an item from a list. Example: Select the desired text, and then click Enter.

— Adapted from The AMA Handbook of Business Writing, Kevin Wilson and Jennifer Wauson, AMACOM, http://www.amacombooks.org.

Make a ‘Thank you’ meaningful

Even if you are polite enough to say “Thank you” throughout the workday, you can turn those two words into powerful recognition for your employees. Spend a few minutes this month showing staff members how much you truly appreciate them. Say “Thank you” with actions like these:

  • Put it in writing. Send your staff member a letter on professional-looking stationery. You don’t need to write much, just a few lines saying specifically why you are glad that this person works with you. Mention details such as the actions, skills or attributes that the person brings to the workplace.
  • Reinforce the behaviors you value. Note progress that the person has made over the past few months or well-established actions that you value. Example: “Rita, your positive attitude always raises the team’s morale. I recall just last week when …”
  • Make the delivery special. Hand the note to the person with a few brief remarks, such as “I want to tell you how much we value your contributions.” Or mail the letter to the employee’s home, where the recipient can savor the praise with his or her family.
  • Ratchet up the praise. Instead of thanking the staff member yourself, ask your boss or another executive to deliver the words with a call or note. Knowing that you have told others about the person’s good work will make it more meaningful.


Inspire when saying “No”

When you say “No” to someone who passionately shares an idea, you deflate the person’s enthusiasm at best. At worst, you deliver a spirit-crushing blow.

Instead, formulate answers that are interactive rather than dismissive. Respond by constructively investigating the idea. Examples:

  • Respond with a “Let’s explore” answer if the idea shows promise. Listen and discuss the idea further. Maybe the timing isn’t right or the idea needs more development, but you offer the person an opportunity to contribute. Besides, with some modifications, the idea could work.
  • Create a “What if” answer that alters the original idea into a better idea with the same result. That response recognizes the merit of the idea and encourages future input.

— Adapted from “Leadership: How to Say ‘No’ While Also Inspiring People,” Steve Denning, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com.

How to receive bad news

Keep these guidelines in mind, and you will avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger” when an employee delivers bad news:

  • Make information-gathering your goal. If you develop a reputation for blowing up at the first murmur of bad news, others will hesitate to come to you when plans go awry. Stay calm and gather the facts – who, what, when, where and why.
  • Focus on damage control. As quickly as possible, define the extent of the problem. Then create a plan to control it as you convene a task force to focus on long-term solutions.
  • Keep information flowing. Inform interested employees of the steps you have initiated and how they can help. Then report the situation to your own supervisors. If you have contained the problem, report the details. If you need assistance, outline what you have accomplished so far and ask for what you need.

Help two employees end a feud

Two of your employees don’t like each other, and their enmity is starting to affect their co-workers’ morale. It is time for you to take control of the situation. But where should you start? Follow these steps:

1. Bring the feuding co-workers together

Let them know how their behavior is affecting the workplace, and remind them that you are obligated to address any behavior that interferes with productivity and team spirit.

Remind them both that you value their contributions, and ask them to commit to working out their differences and restoring their working relationship.

2. Review their options

Tell them that you trust them to choose the best way to handle the situation. They can commit to working it out on their own, involve you in finding a solution or choose a disinterested mediator to help them mend their relationship.

Explain that those are their only options—if they are interested in continuing
in their current jobs.

3. Perform a skills check

If they insist on working things out between themselves, make sure that they are
equipped to do so. Look for both the motivation and communication skills necessary to resolve a conflict, and establish a plan to evaluate their progress so you don’t lose control of the process.

— Adapted from “Workplace Issues: Employees Who Dislike Each Other,” Mary
Rau-Foster, Foster Seminars, http://www.fosterseminars.com.