We’ve all said things that people interpreted much differently than we thought they would. These seemingly benign comments lead to the awful feeling that only comes when you’ve planted your foot firmly into your mouth.
Verbal slip-ups often occur because we say things without knowledge of the subtle implications they carry. Understanding these implications requires social awareness—the ability to pick up on the emotions and experiences of other people.
TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence (EQ) of more than a million people and discovered that social awareness is a skill in which many of us are lacking.
We lack social awareness because we’re so focused on what we’re going to say next—and how what other people are saying affects us—that we completely lose sight of other people.
This is a problem because people are complicated. You can’t hope to understand someone until you focus all of your attention in his or her direction.
The beauty of social awareness is that a few simple adjustments to what you say can vastly improve your relationships with other people.
To that end, there are some phrases that emotionally intelligent people are careful to avoid in casual conversation. The following phrases are nine of the worst offenders. You should avoid them at all costs.
1. “You look tired.”
Tired people are incredibly unappealing—they have droopy eyes and messy hair, they have trouble concentrating, and they’re as grouchy as they come. Telling someone he looks tired implies all of the above and then some.
Instead say: “Is everything okay?” Most people ask if someone is tired because they’re intending to be helpful (they want to know if the other person is okay). Instead of assuming someone’s disposition, just ask. This way, he can open up and share. More importantly, he will see you as concerned instead of rude.
2. “Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight!”
Once again, a well-meaning comment—in this case a compliment—creates the impression that you’re being critical. Telling someone that she has lost a lot of weight suggests that she used to look fat or unattractive.
Instead say: “You look fantastic.” This one is an easy fix. Instead of comparing how she looks now to how she used to look, just compliment her for looking great. It takes the past right out of the picture.
3. “You were too good for her anyway.”
When someone severs ties with a relationship of any type, personal or professional, this comment implies he has bad taste and made a poor choice in the first place.
Instead say: “Her loss!” This provides the same enthusiastic support and optimism without any implied criticism.
4. “You always…” or “You never…”
No one always or never does anything. People don’t see themselves as one-dimensional, so you shouldn’t attempt to define them as such. These phrases make people defensive and closed off to your message, which is a really bad thing because you likely use these phrases when you have something important to discuss.
Instead say: Simply point out what the other person did that’s a problem for you. Stick to the facts. If the frequency of the behavior is an issue, you can always say, “It seems like you do this often.” or “You do this often enough for me to notice.”
5. “You look great for your age.”
Using “for your” as a qualifier always comes across as condescending and rude. No one wants to be smart for an athlete or in good shape relative to other people who are also knocking on death’s door. People simply want to be smart and fit.
Instead say: “You look great.” This one is another easy fix. Genuine compliments don’t need qualifiers.
6. “As I said before…”
We all forget things from time to time. This phrase makes it sound as if you’re insulted at having to repeat yourself, which is hard on the recipient (someone who is genuinely interested in hearing your perspective). Getting insulted over having to repeat yourself suggests that either you’re insecure or you think you’re better than everyone else (or both!). Few people who use this phrase actually feel this way.
Instead say: When you say it again, see what you can do to convey the message in a clearer and more interesting manner. This way they’ll remember what you said.
7. “Good luck.”
This is a subtle one. It certainly isn’t the end of the world if you wish someone good luck, but you can do better because this phrase implies that they need luck to succeed.
Instead say: “I know you have what it takes.” This is better than wishing her luck because suggesting that she has the skills needed to succeed provides a huge boost of confidence. You’ll stand out from everyone else who simply wishes her luck.
8. “It’s up to you.” or “Whatever you want.”
While you may be indifferent to the question, your opinion is important to the person asking (or else he wouldn’t have asked you in the first place).
Instead say: “I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but a couple things to consider are…” When you offer an opinion (even without choosing a side), it shows that you care about the person asking.
9. “Well at least I’ve never ___.”
This phrase is an aggressive way to shift attention away from your mistake by pointing out an old, likely irrelevant mistake the other person made (and one you should have forgiven her for by now).
Instead say: “I’m sorry.” Owning up to your mistake is the best way to bring the discussion to a more rational, calm place so that you can work things out. Admitting guilt is an amazing way to prevent escalation.
Bringing It All Together
In everyday conversation, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Try these suggestions out, and you’ll be amazed at the positive response you get.
What other phrases should people avoid? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, TIME, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.
(and 10 You Totally Should)
Companies need to have rules—that’s a given—but they don’t have to be shortsighted and lazy attempts at creating order.
I understand the temptation. As my company has grown, so has our difficulty maintaining standards. There have been many instances where someone crossed a line, and we were tempted to respond with a new rule that applied to everyone.
But that’s where most companies blow it.
In just about every instance, upon closer inspection, we realized that establishing a new rule would be a passive and morale-killing way to address the problem. The vast majority of the time, the problem needs to be handled one-on-one by the employee’s manager.
When companies create ridiculous and demoralizing rules to halt the outlandish behavior of a few individuals, it’s a management problem. There’s no sense in alienating your entire workforce because you don’t know how to manage performance. It makes a bad situation that much worse.
Here are nine of the worst rules that companies create when they fall into this trap.
1. Restricting Internet Use
There are certain sites that no one should be visiting at work, and I’m not talking about Facebook. But once you block pornography and the other obvious stuff, it’s a difficult and arbitrary process deciding where to draw the line.
Most companies draw it in the wrong place.
People should be able to kill time on the Internet during breaks. When companies unnecessarily restrict people’s Internet activity, it does more than demoralize those that can’t check Facebook; it limits people’s ability to do their jobs. Many companies restrict Internet activity so heavily that it makes it difficult for people to do online research. The most obvious example? Checking the Facebook profile of someone you just interviewed.
2. Ridiculous Requirements for Attendance, Leave, and Time Off
People are salaried for the work they do, not the specific hours they sit at their desks. When you ding salaried employees for showing up five minutes late even though they routinely stay late and put in time on the weekend, you send the message that policies take precedence over performance. It reeks of distrust, and you should never put someone on salary that you don’t trust.
When companies are unnecessarily strict in requiring documentation for bereavement and medical leave, it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of employees who deserve better. After all, if you have employees who will fake a death to miss a day’s work, what does that say about your company?
3. Draconian E-mail Policies
This is a newer one that’s already moving down a slippery slope. Some companies are getting so restrictive with e-mail use that employees must select from a list of pre-approved topics before the e-mail software will allow them to send a message.
Again, it’s about trust. If you don’t trust your people to use e-mail properly, why did you hire them in the first place? In trying to reign in the bad guys, you make everyone miserable every time they send an e-mail. And guess what? The bad guys are the ones who will find ways to get around any system you put in place.
4. Limiting Bathroom Breaks
If you’re going to limit people’s trips to the bathroom, you might as well come out and tell them that you wish they were a bunch of robots. When you limit basic personal freedoms by counting people’s trips to the bathroom, they start counting their days at the company. The day you have to bring in a doctor’s note to prove that you warrant additional trips to the bathroom is the day you need to find another job.
5. Stealing Employees’ Frequent-flyer Miles
If there’s one thing that road-weary traveling employees earn, it’s their frequent flier miles. When employers don’t let people keep their miles for personal use, it’s a greedy move that fuels resentment with every flight. Work travel is a major sacrifice of time, energy, and sanity. Taking employees’ miles sends the message that you don’t appreciate their sacrifice and that you’ll hold on to every last dollar at their expense.
6. Pathetic Attempts at Political Correctness
Maintaining high standards for how people treat each other is a wonderful thing as we live in a world that’s rife with animosity and discrimination. Still employers have to know where to draw the line. Going on a witch-hunt because someone says “Bless you” to another employee that sneezed (real example) creates an environment of paranoia and stifled self-expression, without improving how people treat each other.
7. Bell Curves and Forced Rankings of Performance
Some individual talents follow a natural bell-shaped curve, but job performance does not. When you force employees to fit into a pre-determined ranking system, you do three things: 1) incorrectly evaluate people’s performance, 2) make everyone feel like a number, and 3) create insecurity and dissatisfaction when performing employees fear that they’ll be fired due to the forced system. This is yet another example of a lazy policy that avoids the hard and necessary work of evaluating each individual objectively, based on his or her merits.
8. Banning Mobile Phones
If I ban mobile phones in the office, no one will waste time texting and talking to family and friends, right? Ya, right. Organizations need to do the difficult work of hiring people who are trustworthy and who won’t take advantage of things. They also need to train managers to deal effectively with employees who underperform and/or violate expectations (such as spending too much time on their phones). This is also hard work, but it’s worth it. The easy, knee-jerk alternative (banning phones) demoralizes good employees who need to check their phones periodically due to pressing family or health issues or as an appropriate break from work.
9. Shutting Down Self-Expression (Personal Items and Dress Code)
Many organizations control what people can have at their desks. A life-size poster of a shirtless Fabio? I get it; that’s a problem. But employers dictate how many photographs people can display, whether or not they can use a water bottle, and how many items they’re allowed to place on their desks. Once again, it’s the ol’ “If I could just hire robots I wouldn’t have this problem” approach.
Same goes for dress codes. They work well in private high schools, but they’re unnecessary at work. Hire professionals and they’ll dress professionally. When someone crosses the line, their manager needs to have the skill to address the issue directly. Otherwise, you’re making everyone wish they worked somewhere else because management is too inept to handle touchy subjects effectively.
Bringing It All Together
If companies can rethink their policies and remove or alter those that are unnecessary or demoralizing, we’ll all have a more enjoyable and productive time at work.
What other policies drive you bananas? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book,Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, TIME, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, andThe Harvard Business Review.
By Ruth Hill and the Mind Tools Team
What is an Apology?
An apology is a statement that has two key elements:
- It shows your remorse over your actions.
- It acknowledges the hurt that your actions have caused to someone else.
We all need to learn how to apologize – after all, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, and we all have the capability to hurt people through our behaviors and actions, whether these are intentional or not.
It isn’t always easy to apologize, but it’s the most effective way to restore trust and balance in a relationship, when you’ve done something wrong.
There are many reasons why you should make a sincere apology when you’ve hurt someone unnecessarily, or have made a mistake.
First, an apology opens a dialogue between yourself and the other person. Your willingness to admit your mistake can give the other person the opportunity he needs to communicate with you, and start dealing with his feelings.
When you apologize, you also acknowledge that you engaged in unacceptable behavior. This helps you rebuild trust and reestablish your relationship with the other person. It also gives you a chance to discuss what is and isn’t acceptable.
What’s more, when you admit that the situation was your fault, you restore dignity to the person you hurt. This can begin the healing process, and it can ensure that she doesn’t unjustly blame herself for what happened.
Last, a sincere apology shows that you’re taking responsibility for your actions. This can strengthen your self-confidence, self-respect, and reputation. You’re also likely to feel a sense of relief when you come clean about your actions, and it’s one of the best ways to restore your integrity in the eyes of others.
Consequences of Not Apologizing
What are the consequences if you don’t apologize when you’ve made a mistake?
First, you will damage your relationships with colleagues, clients, friends, or family. It can harm your reputation, limit your career opportunities, and lower your effectiveness – and, others may not want to work with you.
It also negatively affects your team when you don’t apologize. No one wants to work for a boss who can’t own up to his mistakes, and who doesn’t apologize for them. The animosity, tension, and pain that comes with this can create a toxic work environment.
Why Apologies are Difficult
With all these negative consequences, why do some people still refuse to apologize?
First, apologies take courage. When you admit that you were wrong, it puts you in a vulnerable position, which can open you up to attack or blame. Some people struggle to show this courage.
Alternatively, you may be so full of shame and embarrassment over your actions that you can’t bring yourself to face the other person.
Or, you may be following the advice “never apologize, never explain”. It’s up to you if you want to be this arrogant, but, if you do, don’t expect to be seen as a wise or an inspiring leader.
How to Apologize Appropriately
In an article in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, psychologists Steven Scher and John Darley present a four-step framework that you can use when you make an apology.
Let’s look at each step, below.
Step 1: Express Remorse
Every apology needs to start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.” This is essential, because these words express remorse over your actions.
For example, you could say: “I’m sorry that I snapped at you yesterday. I feel embarrassed and ashamed by the way I acted.”
Your words need to be sincere and authentic . Be honest with yourself, and with the other person, about why you want to apologize. Never make an apology when you have ulterior motives, or if you see it as a means to an end.
Timeliness is also important here. Apologize as soon as you realize that you’ve wronged someone else.
Step 2: Admit Responsibility
Next, admit responsibility for your actions or behavior, and acknowledge what you did.
Here, you need to empathize with the person you wronged, and demonstrate that you understand how you made her feel.
Don’t make assumptions – instead, simply try to put yourself in that person’s shoes and imagine how she felt.
For example: “I know that I hurt your feelings yesterday when I snapped at you. I’m sure this embarrassed you, especially since everyone else on the team was there. I was wrong to treat you like that.”
Step 3: Make Amends
When you make amends , you take action to make the situation right.
Here are two examples:
- “If there’s anything that I can do to make this up to you, please just ask.”
- “I realize that I was wrong to doubt your ability to chair our staff meeting. I’d like you to lead the team through tomorrow’s meeting to demonstrate your skills.”
Think carefully about this step. Token gestures or empty promises will do more harm than good. Because you feel guilty, you might also be tempted to give more than what’s appropriate – so be proportionate in what you offer.
Step 4: Promise That it Won’t Happen Again
Your last step is to explain that you won’t repeat the action or behavior.
This step is important because you reassure the other person that you’re going to change your behavior. This helps you rebuild trust and repair the relationship.
You could say: “From now on, I’m going to manage my stress better, so that I don’t snap at you and the rest of the team. And, I want you to call me out if I do this again.”
Make sure that you honor this commitment in the days or weeks to come – if you promise to change your behavior, but don’t follow through, others will question your reputation and your trustworthiness.
Further Strategies for Effective Apologies
In addition to the four steps above, keep the following in mind when you apologize.
Don’t Offer Excuses
During an apology, many people are tempted to explain their actions. This can be helpful, but explanations can often serve as excuses, and these can weaken your apology. Don’t shift part of the blame onto someone or something else in an attempt to reduce responsibility.
STEVE TOBAK | Author and Managing Partner, Invisor Consulting
Just about everyone wants to be liked. That’s not just human nature but a survival mechanism that’s been hardwired into the brain chemistry of a wide range of social animals going back millions of years.
With all the hype over personal branding, employee engagement, and social networking, it’s not surprising that the pursuit of likability is top of mind for many of you. And that is unfortunate.
When you try to get people to like you, it never works because it’s disingenuous. In all likelihood you’ll be perceived as desperate, selfish, and manipulative. And that can definitely backfire.
I arrived at that conclusion by raising and answering some important questions that nobody ever seems to ask:
1. What does it really mean to be liked by your stakeholders – employees, customers, and investors – and how relevant is likability in business?
2. Can changing your behavior in order to be liked really work or is there perhaps a more effective way to achieve successful relationships?
3. Since we no longer live in caves, how important is likability in our modern connected world, especially with respect to online social networks?
First, let me explain why we all have this need to be liked.
Many animals evolved as social creatures because a societal structure increases longevity while individuals isolated from the group have a lower survival rate. As a result, strength and safety in numbers is one of a handful of survival imperatives that strongly influence our behavior, to this day.
But in time, humans have diversified, our intelligence has evolved, and being outcast from the group is no longer a death sentence. On the contrary, our business leaders actually include innovators who think differently, break from the status quo, and create new and better ways of doing things. They are the outcasts.
It should come as no surprise that some of the greatest business leaders of our time are not exactly the nicest people you’d want to meet. For every likable character like Richard Branson, Herb Kelleher, or John Mackey you’ll find a Bill Gates, Andy Grove, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, or Mark Zuckerberg at the opposite end of the likability spectrum.
Having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and executives in dozens of boardrooms, I can tell you that the question of likability never comes up. There are lots of reasons for that. One is human diversity. Everyone is different and likability is uniquely subjective to each human pair.
Besides, we don’t work with people we like; we like working with people we can count on to get the job done with minimal friction. We like working with people who are straightforward and consistent. We like working with people who are smart and savvy. We like working with people who are ethical. We like working with people who give respect when it’s earned and genuine feedback when it’s needed.
What makes an effective leadership team – or any team, for that matter – is when the players can work together to make smart decisions, execute, and achieve common goals. If boards needed everyone to like each other for that to happen, we’d have no functioning management teams.
Contrary to popular dogma, likability has no actionable relevance because it’s not a cause but an effect. It’s earned as a result of consistent behavior that’s integral to your personality, upbringing, and values. It’s a function of how you genuinely interact with others and handle relationships. By the time you reach adulthood, it’s part of you.
Moreover, if you try to get people to like you – on an individual basis or en masse – it will come across as desperate, disingenuous, and selfish because that’s exactly what it is. When you attempt to manipulate how others feel about you, that’s called controlling and narcissistic behavior. And sooner or later, it will backfire.
Social networks are no different. Relationships have a natural course. They start out superficial and deepen as the number and quality of interactions increase. That’s what determines how we feel about one another. Until you really get to know someone, the question of whether you like him or not has no real relevance.
Instead of trying to be liked or likable, strive to build successful relationships. The best way to do that is to know yourself, be yourself, and genuinely seek to understand others for some mutual benefit. That’s all there is to it. Everything else will be determined over the natural course of each relationship.
Everyone wants to be liked, but trying to be likable will not get you there … and it will likely backfire.
Steve Tobak is management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive of the high-tech industry, and and author of the upcoming book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur. Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, where he’s a trusted strategic advisor to executives and business leaders. Contact Tobak.
Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts.