PRODUCTIVITY

The 7 Most Destructive Phrases to Avoid at Work

Your words matter and have a huge impact on your employees. Avoid these 7 phrases and watch your employee productivity and engagement soar.
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Sometimes leaders make statements that have an effect entirely opposite of what was intended. These phrases might be well intended, but the interpretation can be very damaging. Instead of leading to efficiency and productivity gains, these phrases can result in destructive consequences. Use the seven phrases below with great caution and be sure that people understand what you are trying to convey. Otherwise, instead of being helpful you are apt to find negative outcomes, including resentment, lowered creativity, reduced engagement, and higher turnover.

1. We already tried that: This is a statement borne out of something that did not work in the past. Maybe it was an idea that was ahead of its time, or maybe it wasn't executed properly. Regardless, it should not forever be used as an excuse not to try again. Particularly as the time gap widens, what once failed may now be a wild success.

2. That's not your job: Role clarity is essential, and none of us like it when someone needles into our area without asking. At the same time, this statement prevents people from stretching themselves to do more. It's important to encourage people to make the most of their ability, and allowing them to take on stretch assignments and projects outside their immediate area can advance this.

3. Whose job is on the line if this doesn't work?: With any goal or project, there needs to be a person that is accountable for its success. But this can be done in a positive way. Statements like this or "Who gets fired if this doesn't work?" create an atmosphere of negativity and fear. This will prevent people from taking strategic risks that can set your business apart.

4. Don't reinvent the wheel: If the wheel was never "reinvented" Lamborghinis and Porsches would be driving on top of 4 wooden disks! Many market leading companies lost their edge--or even went bankrupt--when the failed to try to make their products better. Think Kodak, Blockbuster Video, AOL, etc. Other dangerous variations of this phrase are "If it ain't broke don't fix it" and "We've always done it that way."

5. That won't work: Don't just shut someone down. Ask the right questions to get at the heart of what they were trying to do or propose. Provide suggestions and engage in an interactive dialogue and you may soon find something that will work.

6. Just get it done. This is another phrase that leads to a culture of fear. As a result, people feel immense pressure to deliver, regardless of how it gets done. At its best, employees don't treat each other as well and corners get cut; at its worst, people begin to delve into practices that might be borderline unethical, or even illegal. Instead ask them what they need in order to get the job done.

7. I already knew that. Sure you may have, but a "shut up" statement like this will make people feel little. They are subsequently less inclined to speak up next time they have an idea. Thank them for the suggestion, or better yet, give them credit for the idea.

Last updated: Jul 27, 2014

DAVID VAN ROOY | Columnist

David Van Rooy is Senior Director of International Human Resources Strategy & Operations at Walmart. His new book is Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (2014, AMACOM).

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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