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Communication tips for managers, directors and supervisors

We've all been there. Said or done things we wish we could take back. As a manager, director or supervisor this becomes even more of an issue. Sometimes the things we say or do in those roles have far-reaching effects and linger on much longer than we think. So, with apologies to David Letterman, and as compiled by a group of managers with revisions by yours truly, here they are, in reverse order: The top 10 things managers and supervisors should not say to their staff.

10. You think you're having a bad day!

It's not about you! If I'm your supervisee and I come to you with a problem or concern, the last thing I want to hear about is your problems. I need you to listen to me and help me get through whatever the issue is that I brought to you.

If you have a problem, take it to your supervisor. Hopefully she won't start telling you about her day.

9. You did better than I ever thought you would

Talk about a backhanded compliment!

This one actually happened to me. I was in my first year as a program director at a large agency. During my first-year evaluation my boss literally said to me that he never thought I would do as well as I did. Thanks, I think.

8. You didn't hear this from me

Actually, we shouldn't hear anything from you except accurate information and facts. Rumors are best left for the lunch room and you shouldn't be a part of the mill.

Oftentimes, especially in large organizations, there is an excess of what I refer to as myths and legends. Your job is to clear those up, not contribute to them.

7. "They" don't tell me anything

The omnipresent "they." First of all, who are they? Is it management? If so, guess what? You're one of them!

If your staff asks questions for which you don't have answers, this should be the least acceptable response. At best it makes you appear as though you are out of the loop. At worst your staff could perceive you as not caring, incompetent, just plain stupid or all of the above. If you don't know the answer, get it. If staff members are not entitled to know, tell them with an explanation as to why.

6. I don't care how you do it — just get it done

The reality is, you actually do care. Or, at least, you should care how it gets done. What if the employee accomplished the task in a way that was illegal, unethical or at the expense of another employee? Ultimately, you will be held accountable for your employee's actions so you'd better know what's going on around you. This type of statement cuts off any discussion as to why the employee might be struggling with the task at hand. It also eliminates any opportunity for you to offer your assistance. Is that really what you want?

5. We don't need to go over your evaluation — just sign it and I'll send it to HR

There is so much wrong with this one that I don't even know where to start. People much smarter than I have written an enormous number of articles and books about employee evaluations. I defer to their expertise.

4. Anything you heard about layoffs is just a rumor

Yeah, right! Sometimes the best way to fan the flames is to try to blow them out. Cutbacks and layoffs are two of the most volatile subjects for any workplace. Here, again, the best thing you can do is to be honest and upfront. People can handle almost anything that is put before them. It's the not knowing that drives most of us up the proverbial wall.

3. It's not my policy, it's the company's

Trying to dissociate yourself from company policies and procedures puts you into a state of no man's land. Managers often use this type of approach as a way of trying to get themselves off the hook with staff. It creates the illusion that you are on the side of the staff against that big, bad administration. You can't have it both ways. If you disagree with or have an issue with a policy, take it to your supervisor.

2. I'm right behind you

How far behind? Are you there to support your staff members, or will you let them go it on their own? If they fall into the abyss, oh well.

Leadership starts at the front of the line, not the back.

And the number 1 thing managers should never say or do

On Friday at 4:45 p.m., send a nerve-inducing email to your employee: "Be in my office first thing Monday morning."

Great! If I'm your employee I can forget about those tickets I have to the Yankees, Red Sox game, or the dinner reservations I waited a month to get at that fancy new restaurant. I'm picking up a case of my favorite beer, ordering delivery of 12 pizzas, planting myself on the sofa, and spending the weekend binge watching every back episode of the "Walking Dead." Monday is not going to be a good day.

So, there you have it. Odds are you can come up with your own list or, at least, add to this one. There's an old adage about engaging your brain before putting your mouth in gear. For anyone in a supervisory role, this could not be more true.

For more from Tom Butero, visit Tom Butero Training and Consultation Services.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Senior strategist who pairs out-of-the-box thinking with tried-and-true consulting skills