8 Things Managers Should Never Say to Their Employees

8 Things Managers Should Never Say to Their Employees

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As a manager, you have many opportunities to put your foot in your mouth. This is a good wake up call to remember to think before you speak.


Having or showing a feeling of patronizing superiority…

Most would be shocked if they found out they were seen as a condescending manager. If confronted by a brave employee, they would probably deny it (“that’s not what I meant”, or “you’re being too sensitive”).

However, even decent managers sometimes say things to their employees, with good intentions, that may come across as condescending. Given how hesitant most employees are about giving feedback, managers may never know how they made the employee feel.

Below are 8 things that run the risk of coming across as condescending. I say “run the risk”, because there are always exceptions, and context is everything.

Also, it’s often not what is said…it’s how it’s said, or the tone of the message. Even a simple phase like “How are you doing today?” can come across as condescending if truly someone feels they are superior to the other person. Then there’s my favorite, when you try to disagree with a boss, and your boss responds by talking LOUDER and sloooooower to you, in order to help you understand.

Whatever the case, just beware of the following phrases, and please excuse my condescending remarks after each phrase.

1. “I’m not a detail person, but Leslie here is, so she’ll take care of that stuff.”

I really doubt that Leslie loves slogging through those mundane details any more than you do, but she has to – it’s her job, and not yours, so she does it. And because she takes pride in her work, she does it well, just like you do. So don’t call her out in front of others as a “detail” person, as if it’s in her DNA, and pat yourself on the back for being a big-shot “big picture” person.

A similar condensing bit of “praise” is something like “Hey, let me introduce you to Leslie – she’s the one who really runs things around here, not me (har har har)”. No, she really doesn’t – you do. Leslie is simply doing her job, stuff she’s supposed to do.

2.“Don’t worry about it”, or “It’s no big deal.”

It may not be a big deal to you, but it must be a big deal to your employee, or the employee would not have brought it up. You need to take the time to listen, and find out why the employee is concerned, and then take the opportunity to coach the employee to help them find a solution.

3. “Oh, you sound just like my son/daughter/wife/ex-wife/husband/grandmother or any other family member.”

In other words, you’re just as clueless as one of my family members is. This is just another way of dismissing the employee’s concern or idea.

4. “Well, that sounds good in theory, but in the real world…”

So what world are you saying your employee is from? Gee, maybe you might want to take some time to hear the employee’s “theory” out, and check your real-world assumptions at the door for a moment.

5. “I don’t have time to deal with this – figure it out, that’s your job”.

While this may be true, again, you’re missing a great opportunity to coach. And oh yeah, that’s your job – to coach and develop your employees.

6. “I know you’re feeling ______ right now, but you really shouldn’t because…”

Never assume you know what an employee is feeling or tell them how they should be feeling. Ask them how they feel, and acknowledge it by responding with empathy.

7. “You don’t seem to understand…”, or, “I don’t think you’re listening to me…”

Well, maybe the employee does, or he/she is, and just doesn’t agree with you. Try finding out why. You might learn something.

8. “Well, you’re the first one to complain about this – no one else seems to have a problem with it”.

That’s because no one else had the courage to speak up. And if you ask the others if they “have a problem with it”, you’ll hear exactly what you want to hear — but not the truth.

How about you? What does “condescending” sound like to you?

This article was shared by Dan McCarthy, from the Great Leadership blog.

Dan McCarthy
About the Author
Dan McCarthy

Dan McCarthy is the Director of Executive Development Programs (EDP) at the Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).  He authored the Great Leadership Development and Succession Planning eBook, and is an influential voice in social media.

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