7 Toxic Words You Should Never Say as a Leader
June 8, 2018
True story – in a moment of honesty, one of my old bosses told me she was planning on “lowballing” me with her original salary offer, until the recruiter talked her out of it.
It wasn’t personal — it was about saving money, as if she gave me less salary she could bring on a contractor. But that one comment forever bothered me. I never said anything about it, but it always put a slight strain on our relationship.
The words a manager uses really, really matter. Even something said in jest or in the moment can stick with an employee for a long time.
Well, LinkedIn Learning Instructor Todd Dewett wants to help. In a previous video in his course Management Tips Weekly, he listed out the phrases a manager should never say at work. In a more recent video within the course, he went even more granular and pinpointed the seven toxic words a leader should never say on the job.
7 Toxic Words a Leader Should Never Use
Never say something can’t be done – it’s harsh and often untrue.
Instead, explain why something can be difficult to execute. So, rather than, “we can’t sort sales calls by that way,” say “to get that data, we’d need to educate the entire sales team on a new field in SalesForce.” That’ll provide more context and ultimately led to better relationships with your employees.
Big clarification here – saying no is a big part of being a manager. Prioritization is essential. But, how you say no matters, and that’s by avoiding the actual word no.
“It's clear and to the point, but it's very often seen as too heavy, negative or even disrespectful,” Dewett said. “Instead, strive to offer a more informative comment about the decision that was made.”
“If you want to make someone get angry or question their intelligence, tell them they're wrong,” Dewett said. “If an issue truly is black or white, okay, but most are not, and a more nuanced statement is beneficial.”
Also, saying “wrong” is a sign of closed-minded thinking. Rarely is someone completely wrong or completely right, there’s degrees of truth to each point.
This one is okay if you are talking earthquakes. But, telling someone something is “their fault” is a recipe for disengagement.
“Assigning fault might be necessary, but know that it's dangerous,” Dewett said. “The key is to be succinct, focused more on the team more than any one individual when possible, and framed positively.”
A rule PR folks teach politicians – never say never. Well, same goes for managers.
“When talking about the future, this word almost always feels like a door slammed in someone's face,” Dewett said. “It can reduce hope and thus motivation. You can't see the future, so let's resist saying never.”
This is one of those words we use in jest. And maybe it gets a laugh at the time – but with a cost.
“Even though you might be talking about an idea or work product, not a person, people very often take it personally,” Dewett said. “Instead, try to choose non-inflammatory language.”
This is similar to never. And it’s rarely true – two hundred years ago, the idea of someone flying across the country at 40,000 feet at speeds of 550 mph seemed impossible. Now, it happens all the time.
“I'll admit that all of these words in small doses, framed constructively, are just fine,” Dewett said. “But remember, don't overindulge in their use and don't use them with a heavy, negative tone. Your words matter, so try to err on positive word choices if you really want people to listen.”
Want to learn more? Watch Dewett’s full LinkedIn Learning course, Management Tips Weekly.
Other videos in the course cover:
- Being a leader, not a micromanager (2 minutes 21 seconds)
- Delivering employee feedback (2 minutes 53 seconds)
- Understanding organizational politics (2 minutes 29 seconds)
- Offering a needed apology (2 minutes 25 seconds)
- Making better decisions at work (3 minutes 9 seconds)