There have been a few articles floating around over the last couple weeks about things bosses shouldn’t say, 10 things bad bosses say, or even things you shouldn’t say to your boss. I’m torn about the advice these articles give. I don’t know that so much of it is you shouldn’t say them (although, some of them you probably shouldn’t unless your team is really tight and is okay with the boundaries you’ve all set, and even then…be careful) as it is, how you say it.
Being a manager or an employee is tough. Especially in today’s work environment. The push for total transparency, with sometimes a complete disregard for the office politics that might be present in your work place, can sometimes bungle these well-meaning words and create conundrums where an employee or new (or even experienced manager) gets tongue tied. Or maybe your organization is feeling the instability that exists in the world today, and things are happening at a rapid pace, so that the goals or targets you thought were appropriate or correct, aren’t or are just enough, that you fall short.
There also seems to be a narrower standard for managers versus employees, on how much of their own personality can come out in the words or actions they use. I can be a pretty direct person, and I can also sound matter of fact when working with colleagues who need “more” from the way I’m communicating. As a manager, I’ve struggled before in making clear the priorities I needed while also not letting my frustration with some of what I see as fluffier or non-essential pieces of communications, especially if I’ve had to make the point or priority before. I believe one time, I actually used the phrase “you’re just going to have to get over that”. Based on the previous relationship with that colleague, I thought the phrase was fine. I was incorrect, and it ended up causing many problems down the road.
I believe, on its face, that phrase could be okay, but my delivery (as referenced by my personality style above) made it sound more frustrating to the listener. I still believe it’s okay to say the words, because frankly that’s who I am and what I was thinking at the time. And conversations, whether between lateral or reporting colleagues, are two way streets. The listener has the opportunity to push back and establish their own thoughts and boundaries as we move forward. However, as a manager, I forgot the cardinal rule of tone. Through that one sentence, I boxed her in and forced her into a defensive place by the way that I delivered it. And that I think is what’s the most important takeaway in these lists popping up.
As companies grow less formal and in some ways more small (through connected circles in social media and changing business models), tone and delivery become much more a priority in the ways that we conduct ourselves. And this counts online and in person, because how many times have we all seen a FB post or email chain spin out of control because someone misinterpreted the “feelings” behind the words.
Rules to think about as you embark on your day to day conversations
1) What kinds of personalities will I be interacting with today?
–It’s not I’m not an empathetic person, but I can be perceived that way because I compartmentalize those more sensitive elements of my personality internally when I’m at work. My boundaries are different. As I suspect could be same for some of the managers who’ve made it onto these lists. As a good rule of thumb though, we should always take into consideration the personality types we encounter and how they differ or complement our own individual styles, which sometimes means compromising elements of who you are to keep relations collegial. Don’t bend so far though that you forget your own personality, though, because then you could be bringing subconscious subterfuge to conversations and make it worse.
2) What am I really trying to say?
–Sometimes there is no road to compromise. And what you will have to say in some conversations will be tough to hear, or comprehend, or take part in. And sometimes it will be completely fun driven. We have thousands of interactions a day with people, so be deliberate and take the time to really think through what you want to say when you say it. Especially if it’s going to be online or with a direct report (or your boss for that matter).
3) What I am dealing with today that I’m bringing along with me as I interact with people?
–We all have triggers. It might be stressful at work, at home, on the road, etc. There might have been a blog post, meeting, or phone call that blew your whole day up, and there are no “hazard here” signs for the next person who you meet up with. Some folks wear that on their sleeves and for some of us, it sneaks up on us as we interact and our compartmentalization wear thin. Remember, your emotions are important too, whether you’re a manager or an employee, and taking the time to deal with them can go a long way in making you sure you don’t make it on these lists.