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7 Sentences That Will Stress Out Your Staff (and What to Say Instead)

7 Sentences That Will Stress Out Your Staff (and What to Say Instead)

Workplace stress is a common problem, but as a manager, you can reduce the likelihood of your employees suffering from stress simply by changing the way you communicate.

The stress response is a reaction to an external cue—you can “talk” your employees’ stress responses into overdrive if you communicate a certain way. It is surprisingly common for bosses to use inflammatory language that sets the stress response up automatically. On the other hand, if you’re careful about the way you word things, your employees’ responses to work pressures are more likely to be positive and measured.

Here are seven things you should stop saying to your staff, and some better sentences to use instead to encourage calmness and productivity.

1. “I don’t want to worry you, but…”

This is surely one of the most cortisol-producing phrases in the English language. This sentence releases so many stress chemicals it should be banned from all workplaces. You’ve already set your employee up to worry by suggesting there may be something to be concerned about.

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Say this instead: This sort of sentence is usually used to introduce a fear, rather than a certainty, that something may be about to go wrong. It is best not to mention worry at all. Instead, ask a question to check whether your fears may be justified. Eg. “Mike, did you double-check the figures on that spreadsheet?”

2. “We need to talk…”

This is another of those really unhelpful introductions that sets an employee on edge for no reason. If you say this to a staff member, they will immediately start asking themselves “About what? What have I done? Am I going to get in trouble?” Leaving an employee feeling worried and confused is not the way to get the best out of them, nor to make them improve.

Say this instead: Instead of dancing around the subject with ambiguous phrases, introduce the topic at hand immediately before asking to sit down and talk it over. Make sure the employee knows they are not in trouble and point out the scale of the problem. If there is only one thing that they are being pulled up on, then say so, so they don’t get stressed out for no reason. Eg. “Michelle, I liked this morning’s presentation overall, but there was one thing I think you could do better. Can we talk it through now?”

3. “I have some terrible news.”

There is no need to get your staff worked up over announcements and changes, even if they may seem to be negative. Using this sort of language can unnecessarily panic employees, leaving them feeling resourceless. Stating that something is “terrible” is a very black and white way of thinking, and suggests that there are no silver linings at all.

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Say this instead: Let your staff decide for themselves what to make of news by giving them the facts, rather than deciding for them how they should feel. Be neutral with your language when announcing something that may be challenging. Eg. “I have an announcement from Head Office.”

4. “I don’t have time for this.”

If one of your staff members wants to talk to you, or needs you to sort out an issue, it is very discouraging to be told you don’t have the time. You may well be busy, but listening to employee’s concerns is an important part of a manager’s job too. Don’t leave your staff members feeling like they can’t count on your support.

Say this instead: Give your employees a sense that you are willing to listen. Don’t brush them off with an “We’ll talk about it later.” Give them a supportive message and a specific time when you’ll be free. Eg. “I want to give your concerns my full attention. Can you come to my office to discuss this at 3pm?”

5. “What’s wrong with you?”

When an employee is struggling, it can be frustrating for all involved. But using phrases that attack individuals is really unhelpful and can make employees defensive and stressed out. Sentences such as these make employees feel like you are making an attack on their personality. This should be avoided at all costs.

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Say this instead: Don’t use language that suggests there is something wrong with an employee intrinsically. Use phrases that suggest that their application is the issue here. Be specific about what has gone wrong, so that you are not calling their whole skill-set or performance into question. Eg. “Andrew, you have miscalculated this column of numbers.”

6. “You need to…”

This is one of those seemingly innocent phrases that can actually put employees’ backs up and make them feel like you’re suggesting you are better than them. If staff think they are being talked down to, or ordered around, they may become defensive. Being too rigid in how you ask employees to do things can make them feel trapped and stressed out.

Say this instead: Make your employees feel trusted, and like you are giving them guidelines rather than dictating to them. Allow your staff members some personal agency by telling them what needs doing and suggesting resources rather than prescribing your way of doing things. Eg. “Susan, please could you write this month’s meeting agenda? There’s a template on the intranet that may be helpful.”

7. “You’re much better at this than Maria is.”

It is great to make employees feel valued, and to give them positive feedback, but this shouldn’t be done at the expense of other employees. Telling one worker they are better than another will make them both lose confidence in their team members and also make them worry about trusting you. If you’re able to put down a co-worker behind his or her back, when might they suffer the same fate?

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Say this instead: Keep your grievances about other employees private. These should be addressed with the individual concerned at an appropriate time. If you want to compliment an employee, that’s wonderful, but do so by acknowledging their individual strengths, rather than comparing them to someone else. Eg. “You’re so good at replying to customer queries, Tim. I really like how you manage to be succinct, yet thorough.”

Featured photo credit: xiaming via flickr.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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