Your workers are sensitive. Well, maybe not all of them, but there are enough on staff that at times you gotta tiptoe around them when speaking to them. That goes for giving instructions, constructive criticism and firing off emails. (Emails are especially critical because you lose the knobs that control tone and facial expressions.)
Employees expect decorum out of their managers, and they are equipped with “decoders” to interpret a boss’s underlying meaning in their words. Those decoders often malfunction, painting you as an uncaring, bulldozing oaf, even though you’re not. (You’re not, right?) That leaves you with one recourse if you want to avoid inadvertently sucking the wind out of a worker’s sail—unless that’s your goal. Be careful what you say.
Just remember what they say about words: Once said, they can’t be unsaid.
I won’t go over the obvious taunts, just a few of the subtle ones that make a worker’s decoder malfunction:
Thank you instead of Thanks! Ending a directive with Thank you is beyond polite and encroaches on formal seriousness. It hints that “whatever I said, must get done.” On the other hand,Thanks! telegraphs that you have faith in the worker to complete the task and you genuinely appreciate it. If you’re going to use an exclamation point, use it here.
ALL CAPS. Yes, ALL CAPS are used for emphasis, but the trick is to know where. For example, using it on the word not, as in “That’s NOT what I had in mind,” are fightin’ words. On the other hand, “You did a GREAT job” works to your benefit.
“Why did you…” When leading off a sentence, these words always sound accusatory. The recipient must go immediately on the defensive. Other ways to phrase a query are, “Were there any other options than…” or “Can I ask why it was decided to…”
“Please.” It’s not always the magic word that you think it is. When this seemingly polite word leads off a request, it can sound stern, formal or even a tiny bit disciplinary, as if you’re speaking to a 10-year-old whose elbows are on the table. Consider whether a nice “thanks” at the end of the request achieves the same goal.
“Fine.” When used as an adjective it works wonders: “You did a fine job.” Be careful when using it as a standalone quasi-agreement: “You need Friday off? Fine.” It carries the tone that you’re not crazy about the idea.
Curse words or the symbols representing them. Unprofessional and crass under any circumstance, swear words or the symbols that really don’t tax the imagination much—“I don’t give a &%#@ what you think”—will turn off an employee every time. There is no situation that warrants it—even when you’re trying to be funny.