Management Skills: 5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Employees

There’s plenty advice out there about how to talk to your employees – about what you should say (I’ve written plenty myself!). In this article I’m going to cover an area not quite so popular – but equally important – what not to say. Here are five things I’ve heard said to employees and that I would suggest you avoid saying to your employees for the reasons I explain

1. ‘I’m sure you’ll work out what to do – in time’

You won’t believe (or maybe you will) how many people have told me that they’ve started new jobs only to find that there’s absolutely nobody who can clarify for them exactly what good performance looks like in that job. Someone recently told me that their new manager told them ‘you’ll work out what to do – in time’. Gosh. As ‘knowing what’s expected of them’ consistently ranks highly on employee satisfaction surveys don’t you think it’s a good idea to help our employees get that clarity – sooner rather than later? Employees want and need to know what your expectations are and what objectives and goals are important to the success of the job. Don’t they?

2. ‘I hope you don’t mind but…’

I’m all for being collaborative at work but there’s a big difference between being collaborative and being apologetic. Some managers I work with seem to feel the need to gain permission to undertake the most important part of their role – managing their staff’s performance. They know there are real benefits to managing employee performance but they don’t feel they have somehow earned the ‘right’ to do this. So they say something like ‘I hope you don’t mind but I need to talk to you about your objectives’ or ‘I’m sorry about this but I need to give you some feedback on your work’. The truth is you have ‘rights’ as a manager. You don’t have to apologize for managing your employee’s performance and you certainly don’t have to ask for anyones permission.

3. ‘Nice job Doug, keep it up!’

It’s so easy to fall into this trap. You spend literally hours preparing to give criticism, but only a matter of minutes (if at all) preparing to give praise. The result? A passing comment on the lines of ‘nice job Doug, keep it up’ Say what? Which job? The whole job? Keep what up? Not only is this type of praise confusing but, by and large, it’s not wildly motivating. As with any feedback (positive or negative) for the feedback to be meaningful it’s got to be factual. All you need to do is to say specifically what your employee has done (using facts) and specifically what the results of their actions have been. Simple really?

4. ‘Feedback, from you to me – now’

Some years ago I was working with a team of managers when, out of the blue, the senior manager pushed back his chair, stood up, looked directly at his team and said ‘feedback, from you to me – now’. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, you’re right – nothing. The whole team looked flabbergasted (as you would), then embarrassed, then continued talking about something else. Later, the senior manager said to me ‘there’s no point asking for feedback from your staff – they never give it to you’. OK, while I’m sure you’d never go that far, many managers do make the mistake of asking something like ‘what do you think about me as your manager?’. Not surprisingly, they don’t tend to get a great response either. When you want to get some feedback on your management style (because your management style has a huge impact on your staff’s job satisfaction) try something like ‘Is there anything I could do; more of, less of, or differently that would improve your job satisfaction?’

5. ‘You all need to sort this out’

Here’s a scenario someone recently described to me: The manager of a team of 10 called together everyone who worked for her and told them that they needed to ‘get to grips with the new XY system and make it work’ (or words to that effect). Of the ten team members, only two of them weren’t using the new XY system effectively – everyone else had well and truly ‘got to grips’ with it and were using it to great effect

Result? Eight very disgruntled employees

I call this the ‘scattergun approach’ to giving performance feedback. Basically this means you deliver a piece of feedback to the whole team hoping that the feedback ‘hits’ the people who need to hear it. This feedback might be negative (as in this example) or positive (as in ‘good work team – keep it up’). This type of feedback just doesn’t work. Again, you need to give feedback that is factual – based on clear, objective ‘evidence’ – and to individuals who need to hear it (and only the individuals who need to hear it!)


I know the examples I’ve given are a little extreme (though true!) but it is easy to say things to our employees that are simply not useful. The easiest way to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is to make sure you have sound ‘effective management practices’ in place. For example, you won’t make mistake no. 1 if you follow a system which begins with agreeing performance standards and objectives. And you won’t make mistake 3 if you follow the same system which includes giving factual performance feedback. In short, good management practice means you don’t say things to your employees that are, frankly, dumb!