published May 27, 2019

10 Phrases You Never Say to Employees if You Are an Intelligent Leader

10 Phrases You Never Say to Employees if You Are an Intelligent Leader
  • The fact is there are good leaders and bad leaders.
  • The bad leaders have serious faults that spill through their workforce and on to the company’s final product. Bad leaders also, on par, do not know how to speak to their employees.
  • Good leaders are the opposite; they know what to say and what to not say in the presence of their workers.
  • Here are the 10 “not says” that good leaders avoid and consequently, their employees never hear.
What makes a good leader? Is it…
  • Open and positive communication?
  • Fairness (as in pay, job positioning with other employees, raises or an increase in a worker’s responsibilities)?
  • An understanding of the employees?
  • The outline and execution of better work-life balances?
  • An overall decent person?

To all 5 of the characteristics above, the answer is yes. Yes, these 5 traits make up great leaders.

Consequently though, poor leaders seem to run thin on these qualities, which in turn can make an employee feel disrespected or not regarded.

Much of this ill-will to a boss begins with how the boss speaks (as in tone of voice) to or about…
  • Employees
  • The business
  • Customers
  • Competitors

What to say and how to say it is an extremely important responsibility for any leader. There by your tone alone can go the company and its workers.

Given that, according to a recently published article on, 10 Things an Emotionally Intelligent Leader Never Says to Their Employees, there are 10 core phrases that at first might seem harmless, but if used frequently, can cause your employees to be less dedicated to their work and respectful of your position as boss. The first real quality you need is to be emotionally intelligent.
1. "I want to empower you to..."

Strong, dedicated employees usually have good ideas regarding either their immediate job or the business in general. And understandably enough, they should be listened to.

Yet, when you say to an employee, “I want to empower you to…” you diminish the power of that employee to be an individual and independent thinker. What instead happens when you verbally “empower” an employee is you create an atmosphere of co-dependency.

If an employee feels that they must have your input to do something meaningful, they may hesitate to act autonomously. Remember, the employee empowers him or herself. They don’t nor can’t expect their boss to do it for them.

With a desire to assign responsibility and ownership, what an employer should instead say to an employee is, "Leading this project will give you the experience and tools to grow to the next level. Let's check in weekly and I can answer any questions that you may have."
2. "You can do better."

Phrases like this help no one. First of all, it’s pedantic (as in “Do better than what?”), and secondly wholly disrespectful.

Using phrases like “You can do better,” will not motivate most people to up their game.

What can instead happen is your employee may walk away feeling inadequate--even stupid, which won't bode well for your projects or their long-term employment.

Instead of outwardly urging your team member to do better remind them of a time or project they participated in that resulted in excellent work and strong business growth.

Doing so will encourage your staff to put in their best effort on their current and future projects.
3. "I only have a minute, what do you need?"

The importance of your employees cannot be over emphasized. After all, where would you be without them?

This is why you need to make time to listen to them. Of course, there will be many occasions when someone approaches you as you're on your way to a meeting, so when you say you only have a minute, it’s entirely true.

However, there is a better way to frame it so it does not diminish an employee's sense of importance.

First of all, it’s a good idea to establish an open-door policy to make you approachable. Or, if for some reason you can’t establish such a policy, try to establish daily meetings with your staff. They can be as short as 5 to 10 minutes – just long enough to establish a protocol of hearing everyone’s ideas and issues.

Another option is to say straight out to your employee(s), "I want to give you my full attention, can you meet at 1:30 or do you only need a minute?"
4. "You look great in that outfit."

By now, this one should be an obvious no-no to any manager.

The unfortunate truth is some managers are slow on the uptake of what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sure, many people enjoy a kind compliment about their appearance, however it's best to keep the focus on work-related performance.

If at all, employees will benefit more from work-related praise than a comment about how they look.
5. "Sorry to take us off track, but..."

Getting off track during a meeting or any other work-related event translates into wasted time and effort. In fact, that wasted time amplifies as it takes time to get off track, then potentially just as much time to get back on track.

Meetings are more productive when you have an agenda and stick to it. Disrupting the flow of a meeting with a side note, especially a personal story, breaks the momentum and diminishes the effectiveness of your agenda and goals.

While thoughts, stories or other events unrelated to work can be a fun detour from the day-to-day communications, particularly during meetings, for them to be anywhere near fruitful entails everyone in the meeting room chiming in.

Be careful, though, about what you bring up. Not everyone saw that great comeback during Sunday’s late football game, and politics should be avoided at all costs unless you really, really know your staff.

Other than this, stick to an agenda. There are more important things to do within your company than to waste valuable meeting time Monday morning quarterbacking or gossiping about this or that political or celebrity spat.
6. "It's okay, don't worry about it."

Typically, this statement is used when it's not okay. If an employee makes a costly mistake or spontaneously asks for the afternoon off when you most need them, it presents a problem.

Rather than dismiss an issue, ask them how to resolve it. This encourages others to think things through and consider consequences and solutions. If it really is okay, there is no need to add the part about not worrying about it.

Also keep in mind that the phrase “Don’t worry about it” can have connotations that you may not have considered. In other words, “Don’t worry about it” can come off as negative, passive-aggressive or at the very least sarcastic, even when you sincerely mean your employee should not worry about it.
7. "Don't bring your personal issues to work."

A new low in a manager’s ignorance will be met if he or she uses this sort of declaration with their employees.

After all, is it really entirely possible to not bring your personal issues to work? No, it’s not.

That’s because most people cannot make a complete separation from their problems outside of work.

When an issue weighs heavily on our minds, distraction and stress are not voluntary.

If you have a distressed employee, encourage them to take additional breaks, potentially come in a little later to work or leave a bit earlier at day’s end. Invariably you may get more production from their work effort simply because you went easier on them in lieu of their distress.

Also encourage them to talk to someone who may be able to help with their distress.

Of course exercise offers an excellent release for bottled up stress; so to that end encourage a walk or time out for the gym for not just your distressed employee, but all of your employees.

Just knowing that you support them helps an employee feel valued. This will gain their loyalty for the long haul.
8. "It's good enough for now, I'll fix it later."

Solid employees don't run to their bosses to fix something; they want to run ideas by their bosses or ask for direction.

Many entrepreneurs watch and protect their employees by putting the business’s burden on their own shoulders.

As a consequence, many entrepreneurs feel they don't have the time to teach someone else to do certain things.

This can cause an employee to feel that you don’t trust them or don’t feel they are up to the task at hand.

Do the opposite and make the time now. It will pay off later.
9. "Try thinking outside of the box."

Don’t be a staid leader. You know the kind that sits in their office all day, expecting that out on the front line, the employees are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and nothing more.

Think outside the boss’s box by continually visiting and communicating with your team.

In fact, think like a coach who has a team (your employees) as coaches are great examples of leaders who give fair and balanced individual attention to each player.

As coaches have learned, and as you will too, thinking like a coach instead of a boss can ultimately result in having a strong team that instigates strong team efforts.

If you need to encourage your team to think bigger, use a simple phrase like: "And then what?" or "What if there were no limitations?" once an idea or issue from them comes your way.
10. "You're doing great."

First of all, don’t lie to your employees. If you have a worker who’s barely pulling their weight, don’t pull there’s (and others’) chain by telling them they’re doing great when in fact they are not.

Doing this is a disservice to you as a leader and your employees as a team. Call them out in a polite and managerial-type style to explain to them they aren’t doing so great and improvements needs to occur.

If someone is indeed doing great, tell them exactly what you like about their work on a specific project.

As the article outlines, before making a statement, think about how it may be received. Your employees more likely than not are not sensitive flowers, but they’re also not robots who anonymously go throughout their job doing one task and one task only without emotion or insight.

Give thought to whether you are supporting or stunting your employee's growth and creativity. If you are unaccustomed to this type of managerial style, it may take some practice, particularly if you have a more direct type of personality.

Just remember that the change in your management will be worthwhile as good things will happen when business owner/manager encourages, defends and supports their team.

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