Some of the most popular CenterEdge blog posts were on the top things team members should never say, and it recently got me thinking: What about leaders? Few, if any, managers set out to hurt morale or lead poorly, but it can definitely happen if you’re careless with your words. As much as team dynamics rely on constructive communication from all sides, here are ten phrases that great leaders avoid like the plague.

No. 1: Just do your job.

I know I know, these kids today. They’re not like “us.” But do you remember how you felt and the things you used to utter under your breath when your boss of yesteryear used to say it to you? Bottom line: yes, you’re in charge, and yes, you want them to do what you’re paying them to do. But you are almost guaranteed to get more productivity if you give team members a little of the “why” behind a task you’re asking them to perform. And if they’re pushing back, it’s a good idea to lean in and try to understand what they’re hesitant about and help them see the light.

It might sound like:

Leader: “Hey Jimmy, would you mind taking a quick spin through the party rooms and making sure all is in order?”

Team member: “Why do I have to do it?”

Leader: “Well, because Jasmine is filling balloons and Gerrell is working with the kitchen on that big group’s order. Why, what’s going on?”

Jimmy: “It’s just that last week Cole was supposed to do it, and he didn’t. So when I walked into a dirty party room, the party parent was mad and I had to clean up myself at the start. It’s not fair.”

Leader: “Thank you for telling me that. Let’s make sure we’re talking about these things as they come up. I don’t want you to be stressed or feeling like others aren’t helping. I’ll handle that if you haven’t spoken to him about it directly. In the meantime, would you mind doing it today and we’ll have you do something else on your next shift? How’s that?”

Phrasing like this helps your team members feel heard and valued, helps you redirect behaviors that are unhelpful, and is more likely to achieve the outcome you want.

Before you point the pitchfork at me, there is little doubt that sometimes a simple, “I’m asking you to do it because guests are coming in 30 minutes. Will you do that?” is what’s necessary. The best leaders know the right time for each response.

No. 2: I’ll just do it myself. 

Nothing says “I don’t trust you” quite like, “I’ll just do it myself.” You’re busy and while initially it would probably take you less time to complete the task yourself than to coach a team member through it the first time, delegating it properly will save you more in the long term. The added benefit is you provide your team with growth opportunities so that you can focus your attention on growth rather than task management.

No. 3: I’m the only one who works here. (Must I do everything?)

“Why do I have to do everything? Syndrome” is a nasty byproduct of poor delegating because you begin to resent the people who you wouldn’t let help you. After a while of keeping tasks for yourself or taking them away from team members (such as passive-aggressively reorganizing the dishwasher after a team member loads it), no one wants to help you. You’ve become “the boy who cried wolf I-can-do-it-better.” Further, beware of hyperbolic language like always, never, everything, and nothing. When used in situations like this, these words can be emotionally charged and not accurate.

No. 4: That won’t work. 

Some ideas aren’t going to work but when team members present ideas, take care with how you respond. If you reject team members’ suggestions without properly considering them, you risk stunting their willingness to innovate with you. Sometimes, the way we’ve always done it is the right way, but make sure to consider new ideas with fresh perspectives when you can.

It might sound like:

Team member: “I think we should run an end-of-summer party this year.”

Leader: “I like that you’re thinking creatively. We’ve tried to do events like this in the past but struggled with getting them off the ground. How do you see us making an event like this successful?”

When you are open to exploring possibilities, you not only gain new perspectives and ideas but also help your team members flesh out their own thoughts and suggestions. The power of these experiences can’t be underestimated. They’ll gain critical thinking and presentation skills, as well as confidence in themselves and their contributions.

No. 5: I’m disappointed in you.

While possibly effective or even even true, this language may be perceived as manipulative. Instead, stick to the facts of the behavior you want to redirect. Great leaders recognize the impact of their words on morale and motivation.

No. 6: It has come to my attention that…. 

Vague statements like this can breed distrust among your staff. If you’re having challenges with individuals, give individual feedback where necessary. If you have a more widespread issue, then it might be time to look at the processes and accountability measures you have in place that could be part of the problem. Once you identify root causes, you’re able to address them professionally, by presenting specific issues, how they erode safety, your guest service promises, your culture, etc, and then  you can solicit feedback for ways to solve the problem. Together, formulate a plan with next steps, gain buy-in from staff, and finally begin to set goals and deadlines for putting your new plan in place.

No. 7: Why did/didn’t you do it that way?

Great leaders understand the importance of fostering a culture of learning and growth rather than blame. Instead of questioning why someone did or didn’t do something in a confrontational manner, approach the situation with curiosity and a desire to understand.

It might sound like:

Leader: “I’m interested in understanding your thought process behind how you helped that guest. Can you walk me through your reasoning?”

It’s important to give your team members space to share why they chose a certain approach and provide coaching and additional perspectives where necessary. You want team members to use their best judgment when handling issues, but remember that they need parameters to do so in a manner that suits your facility’s goals and mission.

No. 8: We need to do more with less. 

Bottom line, this phrase is almost always going to ruffle feathers. It’s likely your team has no idea how much sleep you lose worrying about keeping everything going. You’re not alone, but great leadership isn’t about instilling fear factor or suggesting they share more of the burden. Instead of focusing on staffing limitations or increased prices, try to encourage creativity and innovation.

It might sound like:

Leader: “I know you guys see a lot in the day to day that I may not. Let’s brainstorm together on creative new menu items, team sales incentives, or guest promotions to help drive food and beverage sales and help reduce waste.”

No. 9: You should be more like…

The saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” But in leadership, pitting team members against each other will rob your operation of its harmony AND joy. Effective leaders understand the value of each individual’s unique strengths and contributions. Rather than comparing someone to others, focus on helping your struggling team members develop their existing skills and talents.

It might sound like:

Leader: “Let’s build on your amazing ability to connect with guests and find ways to do that while still making sure we’re getting them checked in quickly and accurately.”

I also love the approach of helping teams develop leadership, coaching, and presentation skills by asking individuals to become “subject matter experts” in the areas they excel in. Perhaps you set up monthly staff meetings where team members present a topic to the entire group. Or perhaps you set up mini-mentoring sessions throughout a shift, with individuals pairing up to share knowledge and best practices with each other.

No. 10: Don’t take this the wrong way, but…

I can assure you that whatever is said next will be taken the wrong way. The same goes for “no offense” (definitely offensive) and “I don’t mean to be ugly” (hmm, don’t you, though?). Take care with the words you use with your team (and frankly everyone else in your life, as well). Instead of prefacing feedback with a disclaimer that may dampen spirits, try to address any concerns constructively. For instance, if a team member’s performance as an attraction attendant sounds a little more aggressive than you’re hoping for, give specific feedback with positivity.

It might sound like:

“Hey, I so appreciate how concerned with safety you are. Let’s explore some ways to give your briefing an exciting and fun slant so that every guest walks away with a big smile.”

Careful wording and redirecting can go a long way to making the team feel comfortable receiving feedback from you in the spirit of helpfulness.

Oh and PS: You can’t just add “bless your heart” at the end to take the sting out. They’re onto that one, too.

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