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7 Things Your Employees Never Want to Hear

Sometimes, what you say can and will work against you.

Sure, actions speak louder than words, but where your employees are concerned, words can still be motivation and morale killers—especially when you use the wrong words.

Here are seven things you should never say to your employees:

1. "Good idea—now if we also…." Successful—and unsuccessful—people often try too hard to add value. While you may be able to improve on an employee's idea, and while it may be easy for you to map out an implementation plan based on that idea, when you do you run the risk of killing their motivation.

Try this instead. Say, "Wow, that's a really good idea," and then ask questions. Ask how they thought of the idea. Ask about the reasoning behind the idea. Ask how they think the idea should be implemented. Often the employee will already have the answers, and if not, you can gently guide them in the right direction.

From an employee’s point of view the best ideas are almost never your ideas. The best ideas are their ideas, and deservedly so. When an employee comes to you with an idea, make sure it stays their idea.

2. "Look. I’m in charge here." Dealing with different opinions or even open dissent is challenging for any small business owner. It’s easy to feel defensive and insecure. When that happens you might be tempted to fall back on the golden rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules.

Never fall back on, “I’m in charge,” to end a discussion with employees. Every employee knows you're in charge; saying so destroys any feelings of collaboration, teamwork, and “we’re all in this together.” When you can't back up a decision with data or logic that decision probably isn't the right decision.

Don't be afraid to back down. Don’t be afraid to say your initial opinions or decisions are wrong. Employees respect you even more when you admit you make a mistake.

3. "I have a great opportunity for you." Great opportunities are almost never great, since the phrase is typically followed by the “opportunity” take on additional work or handle a project no one wants. Say, "Susan, next week you’ll start working on a new project with our best customer," and Susan knows it’s a great opportunity for her. Say, "Susan, this will be a great opportunity for you: Next week you’ll start sorting out all the problems in our warehouse," and Susan knows she just got stuck.

Truly great opportunities require no setup.  Don’t sell or you’ll leave your employees feeling sold.

4. "Man, I’m looking forward to my trip to Europe." Some business owners assume their employees will be inspired by their (conspicuous) success. Most employees are not.

The more you talk about how successful you are, whether overtly or implicitly, the more your employees will resent the fact your success is based on their hard work.

Is that fair? No. Does it happen? Absolutely. Never brag about your success to your employees. Be humble.

5. "I’ve had enough. I’m out of here." Perspective is everything. From your perspective, owning a business can be stressful, draining, and overwhelming. From the employee's perspective you have it made.

Employees don’t want to feel your pain. Never expect employees to empathize with you. If you must talk about a hard day’s work, talk about how the day was challenging and everyone pulled together to make stuff happen. Or share how much you appreciate your employees’ help.  Always turn a difficult day into a way to recognize how hard your employees worked, not how hard you worked.

6. "No." Saying no is okay as long as the word “no” is never followed by a period. Explanations are always required when you refuse a request or turn down an idea—even if the reasoning behind your decision seems obvious to you.

As a business owner you probably don’t have a job description, but if you did, “Explain, explain, explain,” would appear near the top of your list of duties.

7. "We." We is a powerful word—except when it’s not. Employees can tell when you pay lip service to “we.”

In public, say “I” when your company makes a mistake. Say “we” when your company does something well.

Inside your company, say “you” when employees do something well. Say “we” when you do something well—because your success is always built by and based on the efforts of your employees.

Last updated: Jan 18, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

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

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