Warning: this article contains several phrases often spoken by leaders during meetings. You may scroll through and recognize one or two, even though you wish you did not. The good news, however, is that there are also optional phrases to use in lieu of these problematic ones. Poor leaders stick to these four dated terms, while the alternative, yet thoughtful and inclusive, phrases are spoken by great leaders.
1. “We tried that before and it didn't work.”
What makes this phrase problematic during meetings? New members of the team will feel confused, as they have no way of knowing when and how you tried a specific initiative. It’s not encouraging for anyone to hear that there’s no room for bringing up this idea and it may even discourage others for suggesting new initiatives. There’s also an implication that the effort was made once and because it did not immediately succeed, there is no reason to return to the idea and try again.
Instead, great leaders say: “Let’s explore that idea further.”
Why do great leaders choose this phrase? Simply put, the world is always changing — and great leaders know when to go with the flow. Sheila Murphy, President and CEO of Focus Forward Consulting, notes that ideas that didn’t previously work out may be the perfect solution for right now.
“Express to your team that you’d like to explore the idea,” Murphy says. “Ask what kinds of benefits and roadblocks there are in the idea and how it would work.”
2. “I don’t like that idea.”
What makes this phrase problematic during meetings? This is a loaded sentence that speaks to a person on a professional and personal level. It subtly suggests that this company culture may, in fact, not be open to new ideas. As such, employees should avoid suggestions that go outside of the box. Observe the dismissive nature of the sentence, too. There isn’t a ‘why’ to explain its rhyme or reason. Even the most confident employee may feel as though such a flippant reason is a personal dig at them and their ideas.
Instead, great leaders say: “Thanks for the suggestion!”
Why do great leaders choose this phrase? “New ideas should always be welcomed,” says Antonella Weidman, digital marketing manager at WebTek. Not all ideas brought up during a meeting may be implemented, but great leaders are at least receptive to the idea and respectful of the original speaker. Weidman recommends thanking team members for the suggestion and asking if they may further explain more about how that specific idea can help benefit the company.
3. “You need to think smarter.”
What makes this phrase problematic during meetings? Ouch. This is on par with flat-out responding “What a terrible idea!” to a suggestion. It’s an instant, negative critique that makes the employee feel like melting into the floor and disappearing from their job forever. And yes, it does insinuate that the person that came up with the idea, as well as the team, isn’t intelligent.
Instead, great leaders say: “Let’s brainstorm.”
Why do great leaders choose this phrase? I love the phrase “many hands make light work” and think it’s just as applicable to minds at a meeting. We may have one approach that isn’t working, but let’s loop in the rest of the team and their brain power. How would they approach it? What kind of lens are they looking through where they are able to come up with a solution?
“You want to encourage and engage your workforce to do great things that could never be done by yourself,” Murphy says.
4. “That’s just the way it is here.”
What makes this phrase problematic during meetings? There are variations of this phrase that you might have heard during meetings. Think “it’s always been done this way” or “things are getting better.” Try saying it out loud without feeling a sense of resignation in the way this phrase is worded. Nothing about it feels hopeful, optimistic or open to change and ideas.
Instead, great leaders say: “Let’s hear a different perspective.”
Why do great leaders choose this phrase? Doesn’t that already sound much more inviting? Julie Kratz, Founder and CEO of Next Pivot Point, advises using this phrase to avoid shutting down independent thinking from your team members.
“For organizations wanting to be more diverse, inclusive, and more innovative things have to change for change to happen,” Kratz says. “This phrase promotes more inclusive decisions that people are brought into and that challenge the status quo. These decisions are more creative and innovative, with better business results.”