Be Cautious Saying These 5 Things

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Be Cautious Saying These 5 Things

CautiousThere’s rarely a perfect response for any given situation you face as a leader. However, there are better and worse ways to respond that bear consideration in many instances.

In today’s guide, five phrases that should give you pause before you say them — and how to do better.

Thanksgiving tip for American readers: You’ll find this guidance just as helpful around the table with family and friends as you do in the boardroom.

Here are the five things to be cautious saying:

1. “I Don’t Care About…”

What you’re really saying:
“The feelings of others aren’t that important to me.”

Why this is problematic:
Leadership is ultimately an act of caring — for the organization you lead, for the customers you serve, and for the people relying on you for vision and strategy.

When people hear, “I don’t care,” from you, it runs contrary to the kind of attitude that most want expect from leaders. Worse, if your “not caring” is sometimes in reference to colleagues or customers, people may start wondering what kind of uncaring thoughts you are also having about them.

The issue may not be important to you, but it’s usually important to the person who raised it. At the very least, you likely care about the person brining the issue — so it’s not even accurate to say that you don’t care.

What to say instead:
“Here’s why I’ve not prioritized this concern/issue…”

2. “I Would Say This to Them if They Were Here”

What you’re really saying:
“I haven’t ever said this to them.”

Why this is problematic:
Many times, I’ve heard leaders say this before discussing a colleague, direct report, or manager — and it’s become painfully obvious either in the moment or shortly thereafter that they would never say the things they’ve told me to the other party.

It’s a credibility problem for you to say that you would say something to someone else when you clearly have no intention of doing so. What else are you saying in your organization that you don’t mean?

It’s a good practice to limit what you say about others when they are not present. This isn’t always possible to do in a leadership role, but I’ve found it a helpful target to aim for and, when necessary, make an occasional exception. Here’s more on how to navigate this distinction.

What to say instead:
“I’ve spoken with him/her about this already.”

3. “Please Don’t Tell Anybody”

What you’re really saying:
“I really just wanted to vent.”

Why this is problematic:
You put people in an awkward position when you tell them something sensitive in nature (such as a problem with a colleague, customer, etc.) and then ask them not to say anything about it.

It’s extremely uncomfortable to know about a problem and then be told you can’t say anything about it. Even f they did decide to go against your wishes and act, they are disappointing you.

It’s a lose-lose for them. If you discuss an issue and then tell people not to say anything about it, all you really wanted to do was vent. Do that elsewhere, not in the organization.

What to say instead:
“My preference would be that this not get shared openly right now, but I trust your judgement to do what’s right with the information.”

If you’re not comfortable with that, don’t tell them in the first place.

4. “We Always / We Never”

What you’re really saying:
“I’m uncomfortable with complexity.”

Why this is problematic:
Yes, there are moral absolutes and times that communicating “always” or “never” is appropriate. However, in a lot of everyday situations, a more pragmatic approach is helpful.

Every organization needs policies and procedures, and wise leaders recognize that those policies and procedures are intended to serve people, not make things difficult.

No policy or procedure can anticipate every situation. Effective leaders use wisdom to make exceptions when what’s “always” done doesn’t make sense. If you find yourself looking at everything in black and white, here’s inspiration from Barry Schwartz on how to get better.

What to say instead:
“Typically we handle things this way. Is there something about this situation that bears another consideration?”

5. “I Know Exactly How You Feel”

What you’re really saying:
“You’re making me uncomfortable.”

Why this is problematic:
This response might initially seem kind from your perspective — and even by other party. It tends to show up when someone has gotten bad news or is navigating a difficult situation in life or work.

Many of us have used this statement as a shortcut to finish up the conversation or move the person on from the uncomfortable thing they are discussing. Once you’re said, “I know exactly how you feel,” you’re essentially telling them that you’ve decided you have enough information and you’re done listening.

You can never know exactly how someone is feeling (most of us have a hard enough time navigating our own emotions). Even if you’ve dealt with the exact same situation, you are a different person who processes stuff differently. You can never know exactly how someone else feels.

What to say instead:
“Tell me what you’re feeling.”

Helpful tip: Substituting the word “thinking” for “feeling” in the above will help this request be more accessible if you’re talking with someone who is not as comfortable discussing their feelings.

Monday’s Show

Michael Port

219: How to Steal the Show With Michael Port

Michael Port is a New York Times bestselling author of six books including Book Yourself Solid* and The Think Big Manifesto*. He joined me on this week’s episode to discuss how to Steal the Show* in any presentation, also the title of his newest book.

One of his best quotes was, “The better prepared you are, the easier it is to be authentic.” Find that and more in the full audio and show notes on the Coaching for Leaders website.

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