As a manager or supervisor, you routinely have to handle difficult issues or interactions. You may have to give a negative evaluation, or be direct and autocratic in telling someone how to do their job, or talk to a subordinate who is angry and critical. In these and other sensitive situations, your choice of words can make an enormous difference in how your communication is received and even understood.
Words do indeed paint pictures. So, here are seven ordinary, everyday phrases that can be useful in these delicate situations:
1. "Does anyone else feel the same way?" Often in a staff meeting, one person will bring up an idea or an observation or a criticism. The tendency is to want to respond directly to that person. However, it is extremely important to keep the interaction from becoming a one-on-one discussion (or argument). So, ask if anyone else feels the same way. You might want to deal with this very differently if it is just this one person or it is half the staff who feels the same way. Also, your question will likely encourage others who may not agree to chime in, and it is more likely to get resolved effectively by the team.
2. "Tell me about..." Maybe there is a problem, a situation, or a project that you want to know more about. Or maybe something happened that you need to know about. Often the most effective way to encourage others to talk about it is with a general, open-ended comment such as, "Tell me about this." Then, depending on how others respond, you can decide how to follow up.
3. "I like this [about your ideas or actions], but here's the problem..." If you are going to give a criticism, it's often a good idea to balance it with something positive first. That helps to keep the relationship basically positive, and also makes it more likely that the subordinate will listen and accept the criticism.
4. "I see what you mean, but wearing my Manager's hat,..." The concept of "wearing hats" is often very useful in separating your personal role with others from your role as their manager. As a fellow worker and even friend, you may sympathize or even feel the same way as your subordinates. But your role as manager may require you to take certain actions or have certain expectations of others that they (and you) may not be comfortable with. Referring to that responsibility as "wearing my Manager's hat" can make it easier for you to be confident in fulfilling your responsibilities, and easier for others to accept your actions as their manager.
5. "Is there anything else you have to say?" Your position as a Manager often requires you to hear out others' problems, concerns, or other issues. These may be uncomfortable, difficult, problematic, unpleasant, or things you already know about. You may not want to hear all of it, or you may already know about it. The tendency is to say "I know about it already," or something else that indicates that you don't want to listen. But it is usually a good idea to hear the person out. This way you not only make sure that you are hearing everything you need to know, but that you are also sending a message that you are willing to listen.
6. "May I make a suggestion?" Sometimes your job requires you to tell others what to do. Sometimes you don't have that power, but you want to give some direction based on your expertise and experience. If you already have the authority, you may not want to act in an overly autocratic manner. If you don't have the authority, you still may want the person to take your comments seriously. In either case, "May I make a suggestion?" is an effective way to get your point across.
7. "Nice work." The history of Psychology tells us that positive feedback is the best motivator. And, considering that most people do not receive nearly enough praise in all aspects of their lives, it is important to give credit where credit is due whenever appropriate. "Nice work" is a simple and effective way to do this.
Dr. Marcus is a licensed clinical psychologist and a Certified Professional Résumé Writer. He is a practice leader at the Center for Research and Service at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Center for Research and Service offers professional consulting and research services such as employee surveys, web-based 360° feedback systems, consultation for employee selection, and more. Dr. Marcus can be contacted at marcus(at)iit.edu or (312) 567-7972. http://www.center.iit.edu