The evolution of neuroscience has proven that words and tone immediately affect our brains and can trigger emotions, sometimes negatively. Whether or not you consider yourself an emotional person, your brain instantaneously responds to words and tone in very specific ways. This is true when you are being spoken to or when you engage in negative self-talk.
To maintain a culture that supports your vision, choose your words wisely. These 10 phrases are examples that may seem harmless enough but can demotivate employees and set the tone for a failing culture.
1. "I want to empower you to..."
This diminishes the power of the other individual and creates 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. We empower ourselves, no one else can do it for you.
Instead, use a phrase that gives them the responsibility and ownership of their own growth. Try, "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."
Using phrases like this one will not motivate most people to up their game. Your employee may walk away feeling inadequate--even stupid, which won't bode well for your projects.
Instead of outwardly urging your team member to do better remind them of a time or project that they knocked out of the park:
"Remember the Kramer account? You did an amazing job. This one's getting there; I look forward to seeing the completed project."
3. "I only have a minute, what do you need?"
Your employees make your world go round, make time to listen to them. Of course, there will be many times when someone approaches you as you're on your way to a meeting, so it's no lie that you have only a minute. However, there's a better way to frame it so it does not diminish an employee's sense of importance. Not to mention that what they have to say, or ask, may be time-sensitive.
If you take your open-door policy literally, so will your team. Yes, a good manager is approachable, but their time must be seen as valuable. Usually, this problem can be resolved by daily meetings--just a quick report on progress and to receive feedback and guidance. Still, there will be some interruptions. Try, "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 is obvious. Unfortunately, we are left with many shades of grey in what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace. Although many people enjoy a kind compliment about their appearance, it's best to keep the focus on work-related performance.
In the long run, most employees will benefit more from work-related praise than a comment about how they look.
5. "Sorry to take us off track, but..."
Meetings are more productive when you have an agenda and stick with 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. If you enjoy sharing brief stories about your 4-year-old's adorable behavior, build time into your meetings for everyone to share an anecdote or an achievement they are especially proud of. If your thought is related to business, write it down and bring it into the next meeting, or bring it up as you move from one topic to the next.
6. "It's OK, don't worry about it."
Typically, this statement is used when it's not OK. 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 OK, there is no need to add the part about not worrying about it.
7. "Don't bring your personal issues to work."
Most people cannot separate from their problems 100 percent. When an issue weighs heavily on our minds, distraction and stress are not voluntary. You will receive more from a distressed employee if you encourage them to take breaks and talk to someone who may be able to help. Exercise offers an excellent release for bottled up stress; encourage a walk or time out for the gym. 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 you or ask for direction. Many entrepreneurs want to save the day or carry the burden, so their employees don't have to. Many feel they don't have the time to teach someone else to do certain things. Make the time now and it will pay off later.
9. "Try thinking outside of the box."
First of all, I believe that innovative entrepreneurs don't even have a box. Innovation is not something that you contain. 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?"
10. "You're doing great."
Again, I hear this one when the employee is doing a barely adequate job. If someone is indeed doing great, be more specific. Tell them exactly what you like about their work on a specific project. If they really aren't doing great, point out what you like and ask leading questions about their next steps:
"Barry, this proposal is well-written. I especially like that you thought to include x,y,z. Tell me your thoughts about expanding on this section."
Or, for a less-specific occasion:
"Stella, our customers love speaking with you. They are excited to know how we are going to take their accounts to the next level. Share your thoughts and plans with me."
Before making a statement, think about how it may be received. Give thought to whether you are supporting or stunting your employee's growth and creativity. It may take some practice, especially if you have a more directive personality. The change is worthwhile because good things happen when an entrepreneur encourages and supports their team.