When it comes to communicating with employees, silence is not golden. Employees don't do well with a no-news-is-good-news style of management. Your team members want some news, so give it to them—and keep it positive. After all, it only takes a well-placed phrase to keep teamwork—and your business—humming along.
As Dr. Kathryn Cramer, psychologist and author of Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do, writes, leaders should look for what's "right and possible in a situation," because that's where the opportunities to build relationships and move your business forward exist. Dr. Cramer believes business owners will get more bang for their relationship buck if they move employees into "positive emotional territory" to create feelings of hope, excitement and confidence. These positive feelings lead to employees' professional growth, which translates into growth for your company.
The eight phrases below will help build a strong rapport between you, the business owner, and your staff. Deliver them as is or tweak to fit your communication style and personality. The key is to convey the idea behind the phrase.
1. "Thank you."
Your office or shop is busy, right? Whether you have a staff of five or 25, it's easy to forget to say thank you. But it literally takes seconds to do, and the payback is huge. You get bonus points for actually stopping your work, looking the person in the eye and saying exactly why you are thanking them.
2. "I trust you."
The phrase "trust but verify" doesn't demonstrate true managerial trust. When you operate this way, it says, "Well, I sort of trust you…" Your people sense the hesitation in your voice. The next time a valued member of your team asks for permission, say, "Go ahead, I trust you." You'll immediately see a boost in her confidence.
3. "I was wrong."
This is a tough one to swallow, I know. You're the business owner, the one who cuts the paychecks, the one who has spent countless hours making this business the success it is today. Why should you have to admit to an occasional goof-up? Because admitting a mistake has positive benefits. When you 'fess up, you show that you're human too, and people love it when the boss shows a little humanity. Plus, you're setting a good example for everyone else in your shop. Learn to eat the occasional slice of humble pie and your staff will respect you all the more for it.
4. "I'm sorry."
This goes hand in hand with admitting mistakes, but you should also say it when you hurt someone's feelings. Instead of trotting out the he's-too-sensitive excuse, simply apologize and don't do it again. If you want to grow a thriving business that attracts the best employees, making amends is a vital business practice.
5. "How can I help?"
We recently had the bathrooms remodeled at our home and experienced a personnel issue with one of the painting crew members. The next day, the owner of the company showed up in his painter's togs and told me, "I haven't worked in the field for a while, but it was important that you see the owner of the company after what happened yesterday." Great customer service, yes, but also a demonstration of a leader jumping in to help his team.
6. "I appreciate you."
Underappreciated employees will find someplace else to work. This goes double for your most talented staff. Don't get blindsided when your top performer gives notice; be sure to let everyone on the team know that you appreciate them. It doesn't have to be a love fest; in fact, simple is better.
7. "How are you?"
Caution: This question doesn't always result in a pithy response, so only ask it when you have the time to hear the whole answer! Try when the office isn't busy or when the shop hasn't opened for business yet. Even though you might dread the answer, it's important to know what's on your employees' minds.
8. "It's OK to make a mistake."
Look, everyone makes mistakes. It happens. As the business owner, it's up to you to communicate that errors are a part of the business experience. Obviously, safety for your employees and customers is a priority, so you can't tolerate unsafe decisions. And you can't tolerate a person who simply is not learning from his slip-ups. But if a person goofed up because he or she was trying to improve your business in some way, cut him or her slack. If employees feel like they'll get a smack down for trying new things, your business will stagnate from lack of innovation.
If used consistently and with sincerity, these phrases will empower your employees to take risks. You'll also demonstrate that even though you're the boss, you are still relatable, which builds trust. So go ahead, make your employees' day—it only takes a few encouraging words, but the positive results are lasting.
Jennifer V. Miller
A freelance writer who covers leadership, emerging trends in the workplace and careers. In 2014, Inc. Magazine's Jeff Haden listed her as one of "100 great leadership speakers and business thinkers." Get tips on how to better lead yourself and others at Jennifer's award-winning blog, The People Equation.