In a perfect world, supervisors would be cool under pressure and the perfect source of inspiration—and always say the right thing at exactly the right time.
But if you’re in that type of role, you know that in reality, that usually doesn’t happen. Management is chaotic. People—employees, managers, customers, and everyone in between—are unpredictable, situations escalate, and in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to let something not so appropriate slip out, without even realizing it.
As a supervisor myself, I had plenty of those moments. And it usually wasn’t until the end of the day that I’d realize, “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
It’s not just as simple as vowing not to say, “Hey, you suck!” to any of your employees. These are things that may seem like normal office chatter—but over time, can undermine your authority and effectiveness as a leader. Here are a few to watch out for.
1. “My Boss Has No Idea What She’s Doing”
Just like your employees may occasionally get frustrated with you, there are probably times when you get frustrated with your boss. And since you mainly interact with your direct reports, it becomes easy to commiserate with them about your shared disdain for the higher-ups.
All of a sudden, passing an assignment from your boss to your team becomes, “I don’t know why she wants you to do this, but here’s what she wants,” and announcing a confusing new team policy turns into, “I have no idea why she thinks this is a good idea, but here’s the latest rule she dreamt up.”
The thing is, when your team starts to sense that you don’t have much confidence in your leaders, they’ll follow suit and start to doubt, too. And employees who don’t have buy-in to a company’s mission or leadership often turn into dissatisfied, job-hunting employees.
It’s fine to get frustrated with your boss—I assure you, everyone does. But it’s not OK to share that with your team.
2. “Did You Hear About…”
The rumor mill is constantly running in the corporate world. Employees move from cube to cube, spreading (almost) unbelievable tales from last night’s happy hour, whispers of possible promotions, and murmurs of impending layoffs. Every day, there’s a terrible new policy supposedly about to be implemented or a boss from another department who really has it out for his team.
And as a manager, you should be the last person heard talking about those rumors—especially with the people who report to (and look up to) you. Not only will the rumor spread faster when it’s heard from someone higher up the ladder, but you set an example to your team that gossip is acceptable—and even encouraged—in your office environment.
3. “That Client Drives Me Crazy!”
Your employee is getting chewed out by a client on the phone and asks you to step in. Your response? “Ugh, Rita again? I can’t believe she thinks we’re just going to drop everything to help her. She’s one of our smallest clients!”
This kind of venting can almost serve as a connection between you and your employees. You all laugh at the client, commiserating with each other about how crazy and demanding and delusional she is. Every time the client’s name is mentioned, you exchange a knowing glance and an eye roll. It’s fun and it eases some of the frustration that you both feel from dealing with her.
But it also communicates that you don’t take customer service seriously. That Rita is just “another client,” who doesn’t deserve your best service. By belittling the customer’s issue, you’re telling your employees that it’s OK that they treat customers that way; that they shouldn’t go out of their way to understand the problem or try to help.
As the leader, you should be the epitome of customer service—and be willing to do whatever you can to exemplify that to your employees and clients.
4. “He Really Messed This Up”
When a big project is in the works or a deadline is looming, tensions can get high in the office. So when someone throws a wrench in your work, it’s easy to let out a big sigh of disappointment and focus the blame on him or her. “He can’t do anything right,” you say—to your boss, your direct reports, and anyone who will listen.
But unless you’re addressing the source of the problem, your complaint is inappropriate. Whoever’s at fault, it’s your job to deal directly with him or her—or, if the culprit is in another department, bring it up with his or her supervisor. Otherwise, you’re conveying to your team that you don’t want to deal with the source of the issue—you just want to complain about it.
5. “I Hate My Job”
Being a manager is difficult. There’s pressure on you from the higher-ups to push your team to achieve their goals, and pressure from your team to be an inspiring, lead-by-example boss. Add in the challenge of figuring out how to manage to a variety of personalities and working styles, and you get a job that can be incredibly frustrating.
Some days, you just need to vent. So you vent to your boss, your co-supervisors, and maybe even your direct report-turned-friend: “Being a manager is the worst!”
But broadcasting that you hate your job as a supervisor isn’t going to help you in any department. Your boss may start to hesitate to recommend you for leadership projects and your team will doubt your ability and desire to lead. Think about it: Have you ever looked up to a manager who so obviously and vocally hates management?
Vent to your family or friends—or by all means, start searching for a job you love. But don’t voice your career discontent in the workplace.
As a leader, you may not always know the right thing to say. But by eliminating these blatantly not-so-right phrases from your repertoire, you’ll be way ahead of the game.