6 Phrases Authentic Leaders Never Say in 1-on-1s

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
June 13, 2024 at 3:3PM UTC

One-on-one meetings are a time to touch base, deliver constructive criticism and feedback, and give employees space to vocalize concerns, ideas and more. Leaders should make time for these meetings in order to give their employees a voice, resolve problems and otherwise offer them the floor.

It’s a positive step to have frequent one-on-ones with your employees. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t “wrong” ways to hold them. These phrases, for one, have no place in these meetings.

1. “You always...”

Telling your employee that they “always” do something or “never” do something else is hyperbolic and probably untrue. It also means you’re turning an incident into a global phenomenon, rather than dealing with the specific probably at the moment.

Rather than telling someone, for example, that they’re “always” late, try a different approach. Perhaps you could ask them if they have commitments that are getting in the way of their schedule. Even toning it down a little — such as by saying, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been arriving late for a couple weeks” — is a better approach and less likely to make your report get defensive.

2. “I’m disappointed...”

Want to sound paternalistic? Then tell your employee that you're disappointed in them. Your team member is not your child or student, so don’t treat them like they are.

In fact, your personal feelings about the person or their actions don’t have much of a place in a business setting. Instead of bringing your emotions into it and expressing disappointment, explain the effect of these actions and why they were the wrong ones. In order to help them grow, discuss what they can do differently in the future.

3. “That’s not my problem.”

Nothing is more discouraging than hearing your boss dismiss your concerns like this. So, don’t be the person who says, “That’s not my problem.” If you do, you’re effectively telling them that what they care about doesn’t matter. 

When an employee comes to you with a concern or problem, it’s obviously something that is important to them. It’s often difficult for employees to raise these issues with a manager or higher-up, so they’re doing the brave thing by bringing it to your attention. Give them that validation by listening.

4. “That won’t work.”

Similarly, it takes courage for an employee to come to you with an idea. They’re being bold and taking initiative. Even if you’re not sure if that idea actually has legs, don’t immediately dismiss it. This is enormously discouraging and can drive someone to go back into their shell.

Always take the time to listen to the idea. If you’re not sure it has merit, ask questions. You can always raise concerns, but these concerns should drive them to think harder about it and potentially develop solutions or flesh it out further. 

Similarly, never say that you're dismissing an idea because “that’s how we’ve always done it.” This just suggests that you don’t believe in innovation and are stuck in your ways. That’s never a good sign.

5. “I’m the boss.”

Yes, you are the boss. But that doesn’t mean you need to constantly remind your employees of that fact. When you do, you will quite simply drive people to not like or respect you.

You’ll actually be a better manager by using your actions to demonstrate your leadership, rather than telling people that you’re a leader. And you’ll garner more respect when you display humility. 

6. “I don’t have any feedback for you.”

As a leader, giving feedback is part of your job. You should give it whether or not it’s solicited, and you should take care to make it meaningful. In particular, an employee who asks for feedback deserves a response. If you dismiss them with “I don’t have any feedback for you,” you’re basically telling them that their career and work are not important to you — and that’s incredibly discouraging. Plus, you’re not doing your job as their manager.

In your next one-on-one, take care to be an effective manager for your employees — and steer clear of using these phrases.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for 1-on-1s, either for managers or employees? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

About the Career Expert:

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

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