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Use your words. Carefully.

As a manager or executive, you know that people listen to you when you speak in the workplace. Part of your employees’ job is to pay attention to what you say. So how much attention do you pay to the words you utter when you’re around them?

I’m not just talking about minding your manners or refraining from swearing (although courtesy is always a good thing in the workplace, in my opinion). I’m talking about how you describe the world of the office and the people in it.

Do you, for instance, constantly refer to your office as a “factory”? Factories are good and useful things, but if you’re calling your workplace a factory, it means that the people inside are line-workers — low-paid and possibly low-skilled — not the well-paid, highly educated professionals you’re actually employing. Once you make it clear that you think of your employees in this way, two things happen:

  1. You start thinking of them as people who need to be managed in the same way as line-workers, with strict oversight and micromanagement of their jobs, instead of as professionals whose strengths and creativity you want to encourage.
  2. Your employees start to see you as someone who runs a factory — and as someone who sees them as factory workers. You can guess how valued this makes them feel.

Dan Pink, the author of Drive, points out that a key to motivation is autonomy. Micromanaging the people in your employ — or speaking of them and their work as though that is what you need to do — sends a signal that you’re not interested in your employees as professionals with skills and experience that enrich your business, and you don’t particularly care whether they feel invested in what they do in their offices every day. This is not a small thing; speaking with respect is as important as acting with respect, and one influences the other.

Ask yourself whether your speech in the workplace reflects the way you think and feel about your business and your employees.