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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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Last Updated on February 20, 2019

Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

It’s no secret: to get ahead, you have to promote yourself. But for most people, the thought of promoting themselves is slightly shady. Images of glad-handing insurance salesmen or arrogant know-it-alls run through our heads.

The reality is that we all rely on some degree of self-promotion. Whether you want to start your own business, sell your novel to a publisher, start a group for your favorite hobby, or get a promotion at work, you need to make people aware of you and your abilities. While we’d like to think that our work speaks for itself, the fact is that usually our work needs us to put in some work to attract attention before our work can have anything to say.

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The good news is that self-promotion doesn’t have to be shady — in fact, real self-promotion almost by definition can’t be shady. The reason we get a bad feeling from overt self-promoters is that, most of the time, their efforts are insincere and their inauthenticity shows. It’s clear that they’re not building a relationship with us but only shooting for the quick payoff, whether that’s a sale, a vote, or a positive performance evaluation. They are pretending to be our friend to get something they want. And it shows.

Real self-promotion extends beyond the initial payoff — and may bypass the payoff entirely. It gives people a reason to associate themselves with us, for the long term. It’s genuine and authentic — more like making friends than selling something. Of course, if you’re on the make, that kind of authenticity makes you vulnerable, which is why the claims of false self-promoters ring hollow: they are hollow.

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The main rule of self-promotion is to be the best version of yourself. That is, of course, a little vague and is bound to mean something different to everyone. But here’s a few more specific things to keep in mind when working to get the word out about you and your work:

  1. Add value: What separates you from everyone else who does what you do is the particular value you bring to your clients, customers, or users. The same applies to your marketing efforts — people tune out if you’re just blathering on about how great you are. Instead, apply your particular expertise in demonstrable ways — by adding insightful points to a discussion or blog post comments, by creating entertaining and informative promotional spots, etc.
  2. Be confident: If you are telling people something that adds value to their lives, there’s no reason to feel as if you’re intruding. Stand up tall and show that you have faith in yourself, your abilities, and your work. After all, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, why should anyone else?
  3. Be sensitive to context: Always be aware of and responsive to the person or people you’re talking to right now, and the conditions in which you’re relating to them. You can’t just write a pitch and deliver it by rote every time you meet someone — you need to adapt to changing environments (are you at a cocktail party or a boardroom meeting?) and the knowledge levels and personalities of the people you’re talking to (are you describing your invention to an engineer or a stay-at-home dad?). The idea of talking points is useful here, because you have an outline to draw on but the level of “fleshing out” is based on where you are and to whom you’re talking.
  4. Be on target: Direct your message towards people who most need or want to hear it. You know how annoying it is to see someone plugging their unrelated website in a site’s comments or in your email inbox — if we only got legitimate offers for things we had an immediate need for, it wouldn’t be “spam”. Seek out and find the people who most need to know about what you do; for everyone else, a simple one-line description is sufficient.
  5. Have permission: Make sure the people you talk to have given you “permission” to promote yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to start every conversation with “Can I take a few minutes of your time to tell you about…” (though that’s not a bad opening in some circumstances); what it means is that you should make sure the other they’re receptive to your message. You don’t want to be bothered when you’re eating dinner with your family, in a hurry to get to work, or enjoying a movie, right? In those moments, you aren’t giving anyone permission to talk to you. Don’t interrupt other people or make your pitch when it’s inconvenient for them — that’s almost guaranteed to backfire.
  6. Don’t waste my time: If you’re on target, sensitive to context, and have permission, you’re halfway there on this one; but make sure to take no more time than you have to, and don’t beat around the bush. Once you have my attention, get to the point; be brief, be clear, and be passionate.
  7. Explain what you do: Have you ever come across a website or promotional brochure that looked like this:

    Advanced Enterprise Solutions Group has refactored the conceptualization of power shifts. We will rev up our ability to facilitate without depreciating our power to engineer. We believe we know that it is better to iterate macro-micro-cyber-transparently than to matrix wirelessly. A company that can syndicate fiercely will be able to e-enable faithfully.
    (With thanks to the Andrew Davidson’s Corporate Gibberish Generator)

    Some people (and corporations too) have a hard time telling people what they do. They hide behind jargon and generalities.

    Don’t you be one of them! Explain clearly what it is you actually do and, following #7 below, what value you offer your audience.

  8. Tell me what you offer me: Clearly explain what’s in it for your audience — why they should choose you over some other freelancer, business partner, employee, or product. How is what you have to say going to enrich their life or business?
  9. Tell me what you want from me: You’ve made your pitch, now what? What do you want your audience to do? Tell them to visit your site, read your book, but your product, set up a meeting with you, promote you, or whatever other action you want them to take. This is rule #1 for salespeople — be sure to ask for the sale. It applies just as well if what you’re selling is your talents, your capabilities, or your knowledge.
  10. Give me a reason to care: Be personal. Explain not only what you do but why what you do will make my life better. Both iPods and swapmeet knock-off mp3 players play music; but iPods make people’s lives better, by being easier to use, more stylish, and more likely to attract attention and make their users look “cool”. Part of this is showing that you care about the people you’re marketing to — responding to their questions, meeting and surpassing their needs, making them feel good about themselves. With few exceptions, this can’t be faked; even when it can, it’s far easier to just genuinely care.
  11. Maintain relationships: Self-promotion doesn’t end once you’ve delivered your message. Re-contact people periodically. Let people know what you’re up to, and show a genuine interest in what they’re up to. Don’t drop a connection because they don’t show any immediate need for whatever you do — you never know when they will, and you never know who they know who will. More importantly, these personal connections add more value than just a file full of prospective clients, customers, or voters.

Self-promotion that doesn’t follow these rules comes off as false, forced, and ultimately forgettable. Or worse, it leaves such a bad taste in the mouths of your victims that the opposite of promotion is achieved — people actively avoid working with you.

In the end, promoting yourself and your work isn’t that hard, as long as you a) are genuinely interested in other people and their needs and b) stay true to yourself and your work. Seek out the people who want — no, need — what you have to offer and put it in front of them. That’s not so hard, is it?

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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