A recent review got me thinking. The way I talk to my bosses has changed a lot over the last few years. A lot. I’ve learned the hard way that speaking instinctively doesn’t work. Knee-jerk responses are rarely good strategy.
For example, when you say: “I couldn’t help it! I tried my best!”
Your boss really hears: “I can’t help failing in this situation, so I’ll fail again next time.”
“We can’t really help our numbers. We’ve inherited a tough situation.”
Really means: “You’ll have to find another employee who is solution-oriented, not problem-oriented.”
“This change sucks! I liked it the old way!”
“I’m focusing on what I’m losing, not on what I could gain from this. I’m going to be no help from now on.”
“I’m done with all my stuff–there’s nothing else I can do.”
“Don’t trust me to innovate and be independent. I can’t come up with any ideas of my own, and I’m blind to the fact that there’s always more that can be done.”
“I have so much going on, I totally forgot about that.”
“I’m not organized enough, so I’ll forget more things.”
“I’m just having one of those days, you know?”
“I don’t have enough self-control. You’re going to have to light a fire under me or find someone with a better work ethic.”
“Here’s what happened: [This, that, and the other thing] happened to me, so [bad thing] ended up happening.”
“I see myself as a victim of situations, so you cannot trust me to take responsibility and make sure the right thing happens from now on.”
“I just can’t work well with that person. I really don’t like him. He’s really annoying.”
“I’m not a team player, and I’m not very friendly.”
“I’m sorry about today, I just have a bunch of personal stuff going on.”
“I can’t keep work and personal issues separate. You can expect poor performance whenever personal issues come up.”
“I’m sorry, I keep sleeping through my alarm!”
“I can’t be bothered to go to bed earlier or get a louder alarm. You’re going to have to deal with it.”
“That’s not my job.”
“I will always insist on doing the bare minimum in my job description. You’re the manager, it’s your problem.”
“That’s way outside my comfort zone, is there someone else who can do it?”
“I don’t look for ways to grow. Surely you have a more valuable employee you can ask.”
“That’s impossible. Nobody can do that!”
“I’m too small for this task. You need a bigger person.”
It’s not that your boss can’t sympathize when you’re having a tough time. And it’s not that mistakes aren’t okay. The point is, taking ownership of situations, mistakes, problems, challenges, results, for you and your team–that, and only that, communicates a positive message about you to your boss.
In fact, sometimes all it takes is adding one sentence, and your boss couldn’t be happier: “I have so much going on, I totally forgot about that.” Plus: “I’m sorry. I’ll get more organized today and make sure I’m keeping tabs on everything I need to get done.”
What else do you say, or hear your co-workers say, that really doesn’t get the results intended? How could you approach things differently?
Moral of the story: Before you open your mouth, listen to yourself from your leader’s perspective.