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Do you ever wonder why you don’t get the information you need from your staff? Or why an employee keeps making the same wrong decisions over and over again? Or why certain inappropriate behaviors don’t change? Or why deadlines get missed and the entire organization suffers? To what extent do these questions plague you as a supervisor? And what are the answers?

December is a great time to look ahead and plan fresh strategies for the New Year. If you’re not getting the results you desire from staff, then take a look at the way you communicate with them. A lot of the problem may lie with YOU. What are you saying to them, and how are you saying it? Remember: you are not their peer, buddy, pal, or friend. You are their manager and leader. You are paid to grow people, deliver products or services, and contribute to overall organizational health. Pure and simple. But how this happens depends a great deal upon your choice of language as you interact with the folks who report to you. Do you find yourself apologizing for making a request? Do you tolerate chronic lateness because you’re uncomfortable rocking the boat? Are you reluctant to ask employees for solutions to problems they create? Are you intimidated by your staff? Do you behave as if you are? The New Year is a wonderful time to turn all of this around so that all involved are served.

The following examples of specific language position you as a supervisor in various situations. Take a look. Do you actually use some of these, or do you need to train yourself to start using them? There’s no better time than the present to make necessary changes.

My expectation is…

Occasionally, supervisors must issue a directive for the benefit of staff and/or the company at large. Asking people if they want to do something when you know it must be done is a huge mistake. It sets you up for somebody to say no, and then what? Avoid getting into this sticky situation  Language of desire from the beginning. In a pleasant but confident tone of voice simply say: “It is my expectation that you follow the procedure outlined in the risk management plan when you cannot access any data in the computer system for more than a day.” Once you use this language, by the way, employees are subject to disciplinary action if they choose to ignore it. There is weight behind this particular choice of words.

I’m frustrated because…

Often bosses mistakenly think they should never tell staff exactly how they feel about something that failed. This is nonsense. How you communicate your feelings, however, sets an example to everyone observing you. It’s never a smart idea to tell a staffer: “You ruined this project. You are inept. You are the reason this didn’t work out.” Avoid “you” statements. Instead, say this: “I’m frustrated because the new product project didn’t work like we all had hoped.” You can then go on to talk about some specifics related to the failure and how this situation impacts company image, progress, sales, etc. Expressing your feelings in such a manner clearly lets people know you are disappointed and perhaps angry while it preserves their dignity at the same time.

I’m curious about…

Are you a supervisor who watches a staffer come to work half an hour late three or four days a week but chooses to remain silent? You may be silent because you don’t know what to say. Try this: “I’ve noticed that you arrive half an hour late at least three days a week for the last two weeks. I’m curious about this. Please tell me about it.” The word “curious” lacks emotional baggage and actually invites the employee to talk to you about the situation. You may be surprised what you learn. Perhaps there is a sick elderly parent at home who requires care in the morning. Or an abusive spouse in the picture. Or a child who makes herself ill in anticipation of going to school. Certain scenarios may require accommodation, flexible hours, or intervention. If the issue is forgetting to set the alarm clock night after night, then that is a different story. Give the person a specific period of time to change the habit, and stick to it. If the change doesn’t occur to your satisfaction, the employee is subject to disciplinary action.

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