One of the most valuable leadership assets is your ability to communicate effectively. The words you use can uplift and motivate people. But what you say as a leader can also unintentionally lead to demoralized employees. The comments you make can demotivate people and cause them to be withdrawn and disengaged, leading to higher turnover rates and increased costs to your company.
Certain words can have the potential to significantly impact individuals' professional careers, not just their day. What's more, your words can carry over into the employees' personal lives. Your negative remarks might be the first thoughts disheartened employees have upon waking up the following day.
What Does "Demoralize" Mean?
Demoralizing an employee means undermining their confidence or morale. Negative outcomes can result from demoralizing staff. For one thing, demoralizing words are disheartening, and they can leave people feeling unsettled and dejected.
Discouraging words can also trigger feelings of resentment or anger.
Above all, statements that debase employees can lead to a decline in trust. They can make employees lose faith or hope, which might make them less likely to give you their best work.
Remember that as the leader, you're also responsible for how your managers treat others. Don't turn a blind eye when the people you put in charge make demoralizing comments to the staff.
9 Tips to Help You Avoid a Demoralizing Management Style
What demotivates employees can often be a function of how their leader manages them. Despite your best intentions, you may have a demoralizing management style that inadvertently discourages people. Most leaders don't set out to be careless with their words, but demotivating comments can slip out without much forethought.
Demoralizing words can have longevity – they can stay in our memory for years. It's imperative to boost your awareness of the words you use that can lead to a demoralizing work environment.
Here are nine tips to help you raise your awareness of how bosses can demoralize their employees through the words they use.
1. Beware of words that signal doubt.
Certain words can carry negative implications and discourage employees. Consider the word "hope," for example. Using this simple word may make employees perceive that you doubt their abilities or are skeptical regarding their competence.
Try replacing "I hope you can handle this project" with "I have confidence in you. I know you won't disappoint me." This simple change can help avoid any demoralizing meaning or connotation.
2. Take the sting out of the truth.
When providing employees with an honest assessment of their prospects for promotion, carefully consider your word choice.
It can be critical to strike a balance between delivering the message candidly and inspiring the employee by avoiding bluntness, which can be disheartening to people. With careful consideration, one can effectively combine honesty and kindness. In other words, it's possible to be truthful and benevolent at the same time if you give it some thought.
3. Don't pull rank – ever.
The more authority you have, the gentler you should consider making your approach. Reminding people you can fire them can be a surefire way to demotivate them.
These remarks are inappropriate for a leader to make and are a misuse of a leader's power. Telling people that they are replaceable can be a sign that a leader has failed to establish his authority and must resort to asserting rank to maintain his position.
4. Drop the gratuitous criticism.
If you want to avoid demoralizing employees, consider your approach to criticism. Gratuitous criticism is unnecessary or uncalled for; it's unfair or too much.
Genuine, constructive criticism and valuable feedback may be necessary to improve an employee's performance but avoid demoralizing employees by using your discretion regarding how far you can go with your observations. Try making your critical remarks as relevant as you can. For example, consider whether your criticism has anything to do with running your business more effectively.
Giving your employees feedback for improvement can be essential for their growth and development, but so is giving people latitude in how they do their job and accomplish their goals. Try not to devalue an employee's worth with unnecessary criticism.
5. Preserve people's sense of status.
Many of us have an innate need to strive for status. Status can give us value and importance. A leader should consider recognizing this need and preserve a person's sense of status.
For example, it may not be unusual to hear a boss tell an employee, "Let me do the talking at the meeting." It may be important that you lead the discussion with a client, but you can still achieve this without lowering the other person's status and being careful not to deflate their ego before entering the meeting.
Try to plan how to approach the discussion ahead of time. Consider letting the employee know which parts you'll handle and for which details they will either speak or provide support.
This approach can help to eliminate the chance of debasing the person and can help make them feel valued as a team member rather than someone who isn't trusted.
6. Don't belittle people.
The most demoralizing behaviors can be those that belittle people. Belittling employees is unhealthy and unproductive and can create a demoralizing work environment for all those around them. It can be disturbing for employees to witness one of their co-workers belittled.
Maintaining grace and civility can be challenging in stressful work environments. For example, your frustrations with a novice employee may cause you to make demeaning or degrading comments.
When an employee makes a mistake, try to catch yourself if you habitually make deprecating statements that diminish the person.
7. Avoid comparisons.
Comparing an employee to a colleague can be another way to dampen people's spirit and crush their enthusiasm. That's because comparisons may risk generating negative emotions like envy, shame, and resentment.
Comparisons can encourage competition rather than recognizing and appreciating each employee's unique strengths and contributions.
Comparisons may also trigger feelings of inadequacy which weaken an employee and cause them to lose confidence in accomplishing a particular task.
8. Preserve a person's hope.
Leaders are dealers in hope – they plant seeds of hope that inspire people. Preserving someone's hope can be a critical component of success.
One of the unkindest things we can do is to dash someone's hope. "Don't get your hopes up too much. You know your capabilities" is a deflating statement that's sure to be remembered for years.
To inspire employees and prevent demoralizing them, try not to don't slam the door on people – always leave a ray of hope to encourage them to do better.
9. Beware of generalizations.
Making broad assumptions about employee behaviors can make employees anxious and provoke defensive responses. Try to find ways to help an employee improve by stating factual observations rather than resorting to harmful generalities.
For example, if you're reacting to a complaint about the employee, you owe it to them to state the specifics. This is the foundation for an honest and productive discussion and can give employees a chance to tell you their side of the story so that you can make an objective and fair evaluation.
Remember that as the leader, may also be responsible for how your managers treat others. Try not to look the other way when the people you put in charge make disheartening comments to the staff.
Demoralizing words can erode the self-confidence an employee needs to tackle critical projects. Disheartened employees can check out and lose their desire to give you their discretionary effort – the best they have to offer. Demoralizing words can even make a discouraged employee sad enough to quit.
A version of this article was previously published on March 10, 2014.
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