10 statements that cause harm at work

SmartCompany, July 12 2016

There are many words and phrases, and actions that demoralise and hurt people at work.

Case example

This manager can never resist making cracks, so the team have to like it or lump it. They have an arch tongue that is quick with the cutting remark, the seemingly trite observations designed to trip the unwary, and they make provocative comments that cause staff discomfort. There is some gamely banter with the manager, but others put their heads down, keeping conversations to a strict minimum. For some, just the manager’s tone of voice sets their nerves on edge.

So is “tough talk” acceptable discourse?

Sadly this manager did not develop constructive relationships with staff, despite charm laid on for clients and prospective clients. And worse, “cultural fit” became a rationale for dissing anyone who didn’t replicate the approved standard.

Just plain unconstructive and mean

All this trickles down to unconstructive behaviour and feedback that verges on bullying. It demoralises and doesn’t grasp the complexities of a situation and can include statements such as:

  1. You’ve only completed x tasksSo-and-so easily did twice that amount” – never mind if the other person has been working longer in the area than you.
  2. No idea – dumb question” – just plain unhelpful.
  3. Not interested in how well you write, we need content” – reframing a skill into a negative
  4. Watch out – precious petal alert” – on the basis that someone has previously spoken up in their own defence
  5. Suck it up” – because all the speaker cares about is results, regardless of how they’re achieved
  6. “There’s no ‘i’ in team!” – except when it’s the speaker, of course
  7. Seriously?” – with a withering look that speaks volumes
  8. “Yes we get the point!” – cutting a person off before they finish speaking
  9. “You’re obviously the creative type” – smarmy or patronising
  10. Referring to a person in the third tense while speaking with colleagues, without acknowledging that person’s presence

You’re wrong!

Equally unconstructive is some people’s tendency to abruptly tell a person they’re wrong without considering whether

  1. that person was making a sincere effort;
  2. they’re yet to complete training; or
  3. they could in fact be right – sarcasm is another cause of low morale.

Let’s all focus on respectful communication

So, instead of treating staff and colleagues as objects on which to practise your batting skills, how about we all:

  • Consider other person’s circumstances, their role, how long they’ve been around and frame remarks accordingly
  • Listen to what they say before jumping in with opinions, instead responding with tact, interest and discussing (meaning dialogue!)
  • Remember that you didn’t always know the place inside out (thus helping with proper induction processes and explanations that help)
  • Be responsible by setting realistic timelines and expectations (because if you don’t, then who really is at fault when problems crop up?)
  • Encourage and value everyone’s contribution, making it clear that they all have their strengths and potential to be better.

Strange as it may seem in our world’s competitive climate, investing in people is vastly better than treating them as widgets with use-by dates. Adopting a constructive approach to office culture and dialogue makes a world of difference to everyone. The “difference” being that you are collaborating, rather than being a spoiler.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.