Sometimes people use words incorrectly, which can make them look dumb. Sometimes they describe themselves terribly, which makes them look pretentious.
And sometimes they say things that irritate their teams, or worse, de-motivate them.
How many of these statements have you heard?
1. "This is probably not what you want to hear."
It sucks to hear bad news, no doubt. But when you say that something isn't what I want to hear, you shift the issue over to my side of the table. Somehow it's become my problem.
Don't shift. Explain why you made a decision. Explain the logic. Explain your reasoning.
I still may not want to hear it, but that way the focus remains on the issue and not on me.
2. "I have to treat everyone equally."
Every employee is different. Some need a nudge. Others need confidence boosts. Others need a kick in the pants.
Some employees have earned greater freedom. Others have not.
Equal treatment is not always fair. People care a lot more when they know a reward or discipline is based on what is right, not just what is written.
3. "Work smarter, not harder."
What happens when you say that to me?
One: You imply I'm stupid. Two: You imply whatever I'm doing should take a lot less time and effort than it has been taking. And three: After you say it, I'm kinda pissed off.
If you know I can be more efficient, tell me how. If you know there's a better way, show me. If you think there's a better way but don't know what it is, say so. Admit you don't have the answer, then ask me to help you figure it out.
Most important, recognize that sometimes the only thing to do is to work harder. So get off your butt and help me.
4. "There is no 'I' in 'team.'"
Sure there is. There are as many I's as team members. And those individuals -- the more "individual" the better -- serve to make the team stronger. The best teams are often a funky blend of the members' individual talents, perspectives, and goals.
If you want a team to achieve more, make sure each person feels she is forwarding not only the team's goals but her own. Figure out how each member of the team can do both, instead of taking the lazy way out by simply repressing individuality in the pursuit of the collective.
5. "I guess it just wasn't meant to be."
Fate had nothing to do with it. Something went wrong. Figure out what it was and learn from it.
"It wasn't meant to be" places responsibility elsewhere.
"Let's figure out what we can do next time" is empowering and places the responsibility where it should be: on you.
6. "That's just Joe being Joe."
Typically used to explain away someone's poor behavior, like the top salesperson who treats people badly or the great engineer who is rude during meetings, the loose translation of this statement is, "Even though it's my job as a boss to address this issue, and I wouldn't let anyone else behave that way, I don't feel like dealing with it."
Maybe Joe is just being Joe, but Joe still needs to meet basic expectations, especially where his treatment of other people is concerned.
7. "We're in the middle of a paradigm shift."
Actually, we're experiencing a change you don't know how to deal with and "paradigm shift" sounds a lot better than "I have no idea what the (heck) is going on."
If you don't know, just say so. And ask for help.
8. "Perception is reality."
Yeah, yeah, I know: How I perceive something is my version of reality, no matter how wrong my perception may be.
But if other people perceive a reality differently from you, work to change that perception. Make reality the reality.
Besides, perceptions are fleeting. Reality lasts forever, or at least until a new reality comes along to replace it.
9. "We don't have sufficient boots on the ground."
Military-speak sounds tough and decisive... when members of the armed forces use it.
When you complain you don't have enough resources and you resort to clichés, then you're the problem: You're the guy who isn't willing to figure out what to try -- and there is always something you can try.
10. "Feel free to give me feedback."
You see and hear a similar line everywhere: websites, signs, meetings.
If you really do want feedback, don't be passive. Don't just make it "easy" for people to give you feedback. Go get it. Be active.
People who really want feedback take responsibility for getting it -- they don't wait to receive it.
11. "You need to square the circle."
I actually don't know what this is supposed to mean. A boss of mine used it all the time, and we just nodded.
12. "We'll do it now and apologize later."
This statement doesn't make you a bold, daring risk taker. It makes you someone who takes shortcuts. If the idea is good, people will rally around it. If they don't, the problem usually isn't them: It's you.
Don't take the easy way out. Describe what you want to do. Prove it makes sense. Get people behind you.
Then, whatever you do will have a much better chance of succeeding.
13. "Failure is not an option."
This one is often used by a leader who wants to shut down questions about a debatable decision or a seemingly impossible goal: "Listen, folks, failure is simply not an option." (Strikes table or podium with fist.)
Failure is always a possibility. Just because you say it isn't doesn't change that.
Don't reach for a platitude. Justify your decision. Answer the hard questions.
If you can't, maybe your decision isn't so wise after all.
14. "You're putting lipstick on a pig."
If I actually could, it would be quite an achievement.
15. "We need to pay attention to the optics."
Because if people figure out what we're really doing, how will that look?
16. "We don't need to reinvent the wheel."
I'm all for using a perfectly good wheel. But too often this statement is used to shut down new ideas, especially those that run counter to a boss's ideas.
After all, your wheel might turn out to be a better wheel, which means his wheel wasn't so great.
And he can't have that.
17. "We need to manage their expectations."
Because, you know, just telling them the truth might be a problem.
Even so. Tell the truth.
18. "We need to focus on adding value."
Shouldn't we have been doing that all along? Shouldn't everything we do provide value?
If it doesn't, why are we doing it?
19. "It is what it is."
Here's another shutdown statement. Usually, it means, "I'm too lazy to try to make it different, so for gosh sakes, stop talking about it."
"It is what it is" is only true if you take the easy way out by letting "it" remain "it."
Never let "it" remain "it" when "it" could be better.