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Top 7 Phrases Every Leader Should Have in His / Her Vocabulary

One of the problems with being a manager is that no one teaches you to be a manager. Most folks who become managers do so because they are technically competent at what they do, and they get promoted.  Therefore most managers are learning by trial and error and committing some atrocities along the way, while learning.

In a (small) effort to stem the carnage, here is a list of 7 phrase every manager should use liberally in their everyday conversations with employees – and why.

Thank you

For a long time when I was a new manager, my thinking was that I should intervene only if someone needed guidance / correction – otherwise they “knew” that no news was good news. WRONG. Not only is thanking someone for doing their job well, polite, it also goes a long way towards employee satisfaction and loyalty. Would you rather work for a boss that acknowledges your good work, or ignores it? No brainer. But it took MY brain a long time to figure that one out.

May I give you some feedback?

I learned this from a consulting client who is still in my Top 3 of favorite clients, although we haven’t worked together in a dozen years. I think he is a favorite because of this very technique (and he’s funny, which always scores points with me).  At the start of our relationship he said “At times I’ll want to give you feedback and I’ll always ask your permission first, OK?”  Well sure, who’s going to say no to that? So throughout our 4 or 5 years of working together he often asked, “May I give you some feedback?” to which, again, I always said yes. What I thought was remarkable about the technique was that after a while, it went both ways. Because he had garnered so much respect from me by using this technique, I eventually returned the favor by offering him feedback when I felt he could benefit from it. And of course, by asking first “May I give you some feedback?”

Walk me through your thinking…

Part of being a leader / manager is helping your employees to grow in their capabilities. No one becomes more capable if you simply issue commands at them and expect them to comply. You need to give employees some autonomy to make decisions and take the lead in their work. But of course, making decisions can lead to making mistakes. Rather than berating or correcting, asking the employee to “walk me through your thinking,” helps you to realize why they thought it was a good decision and then allows you to correct that thinking so that they are better informed in the future. (WHY did you do that?! is similar, but more aggressive and less open-ended.)

What else?

This phrase is a good one to use in tandem with the one above. When conversing with employees, they may believe they are taking up your valuable time or abbreviating what they are transmitting to you because they think, of course you know the preamble, they will just get you to the “point.” Asking “what else” shows that you have the time to hear them out and – more importantly – gets them to delve deeper in to their thinking and rationale.  In my mind, asking “what else” is a lot like a psychologist asking “and how did that make you feel?” – it makes the employee pause and go deeper in their thinking.

In my experience…

Sometimes managers are know-it-alls – do it my way because I’ve been on this job for 15 years and know what’s best. But of course, that doesn’t help your employees to understand the “why” behind the directive and also doesn’t endear them to you.  A simple change in phrasing gets to the same end-point but in a more collaborative and supportive way. Rather than issuing a command, simply deliver the same information with the preamble, “In my experience…” 

For example, rather than telling a new salesperson “Never interrupt the customer,” you’ll say, “In my experience, when the customer is interrupted, they either don’t care to share the rest of their story or they start the whole story all over again – neither of which helps us to move the sale along.”

How can I help?

As mentioned a few times now, as a manager it is your job to grow the capabilities of your employees. When you give them autonomy and enable them to make decisions they oftentimes will fear that asking for help means you were wrong about them – that they really aren’t ready for the responsibilities you’ve given them. It’s important to proactively ask “how can I help?” which opens the door for them to share where (or why) they are stalled. This is a much smarter behavior (on your part) than waiting for the individual to fail and then asking “What went wrong?”

What’s working?

Much like phrase #1 – saying Thank You – asking “what’s working?” focuses on the positive and helps you to understand what your employee appreciates or enjoys about their job. Again, because employees are often afraid of violating your valuable time, they will only come to you in “dire” circumstances – when they need help or there is a problem; but you want to hear about the whole person and everything that is going well in their job. This helps you to identify their strengths and interests which allows you to develop them in areas where they will be successful.

These 7 tips will make your job as a manager so much easier, by opening up the lines of communication and adding positivity to the workplace.  You will reap long-term rewards by being a manager who shows respect and is respected by their employees.