Team meetings are a great time for managers to update their direct reports, discuss or brainstorm an important issue, or find the answer to a problem or question. Not only are meetings good for soliciting ideas or resolving conflict, they can also be used to improve communication within your team.
Every manager knows that these meetings are only effective when their team members are fully engaged in the conversation. Managers invest a lot of time preparing for these meetings, but they can be a huge waste of time if your team members are checking out or missing the important messages you’re trying to convey.
One of the easiest ways to disengage employees is to utter any of the following phrases. Each phrase inadvertently leads to a negative response from your team, even when you don’t intend it.
If you find yourself about to say any of these phrases, try some of the alternatives we suggest. This will keep your employee’s mind from wandering and guarantee you are communicating exactly what you intend.
“Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”
Adam Grant, Professor of Psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, described this phrase as one of the worst a manager could use. He acknowledges that while it has good intentions, with this approach, “people never speak up about the hardest problems that they don’t know how to solve yet.” He advocates for organizations embracing problems without solutions as this leads to a culture of inquiry and innovation.
According to Grant, Warby Parker is an exceptional example of this culture. At the glasses company, they encourage all employees to add the problems they encounter during their day-to-day to one massive Google Doc. At the end of each week, managers get to decide which problems they need to prioritize.
By discouraging employees to only report successes, everyone is able to get a better idea of the problems that need to be solved to increase efficiency and productivity. When employees bring up problems, it makes it possible for everyone to work together to come up with meaningful solutions.
So how do you prevent your employees from just complaining to you all the time? Alison Greene, author of Ask a Manager, suggests setting strict boundaries. Make it clear that you will hear complaints surrounding an issue only once. This expectation should rein in chronic complainers, while also empowering employees to bring up problems when they encounter them.
Try instead: This phrase is more emblematic of a broader issue than just being a problematic phrase on its own. Try implementing your own version of Warby Parker’s approach.
“Let me think on that.” or “Let’s touch base on that later.”
Most employees know that these are used as a way to avoid difficult conversations or to simply dismiss their contribution. As a manager, it’s likely that you are using this phrase to keep the meeting on track or try to pass over an idea you don’t find useful, but beware: it may come at the cost of employee morale.
Team meetings are expensive — as we all know, time is money. An hour-long meeting of 10 people with an average salary of $80,000 costs $560. Let’s say this meeting is weekly. This one meeting is costing your organization more than $29,000 a year.
It’s the role of a manager to ensure this a meaningful investment by keeping meetings directed and purposeful so as not to waste any time. The tricky part is balancing efficiency and the need to make sure your employees feel heard.
As this Forbes article puts nicely, “People will sometimes have excellent ideas and other times will have stupid ideas. Either way, taking the time to respectfully listen sends the message that people are valued and respected. Being open and inviting ideas from others will increase empowerment in your team.”
The best way to show that you value and respect your team’s contributions is by making time to meet one-on-one with whoever spoke out the same day. However, we all know how insane most managers’ schedules are, so if you can’t discuss it right now, show that you are serious about talking to your report about their ideas by putting time on your calendar directly after the meeting.
Try instead: If you want to really consider their idea — Forbes suggests “This matters to me. I appreciate you expressing your ideas. When would be another good time to sit down and discuss this in more detail?” If you don’t plan on considering their idea — “I think that idea could be useful for some contexts, but I don’t know if this is the right one.”
“In my opinion…”
When using this phrase, managers are simply trading one opinion for another. While it’s definitely important for managers to have a say in the actions of their team and to take a stance on important workplace issues, what managers say carries weight, and should therefore be backed with evidence.
As a manager, you should set the gold standard for data-driven thinking. By utilizing data, you are changing your debatable opinions into facts. In fact, the MIT Sloan School of Management determined that companies that utilized data-driven decision-making saw a 6% increase in productivity and output compared to those organizations that did not.
Try instead: “Based on the trends that our operations team has been seeing, we know that the best approach to generate more traffic to the website is to increase the number of marketing emails we send every week.” You can also use Pathlight to keep your management super data-driven.
“Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Gallup recently reported that “only about one in four employees ‘strongly agree’ that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them — or that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.” Keep doing what you’re doing is way too vague to be considered “meaningful” and certainly does not help your reports “do better work.”
Whether you’re talking to your team or speaking to an individual, this is not the type of feedback most employees want to hear. Indeed, top-performers are usually ambitious, meaning those who are most frequently receiving this kind of praise actually want to improve or be tasked with more challenging work.
Without constructive criticism, employees may feel empowered to seek professional development elsewhere. In fact, a survey administered by Officevibe revealed that there is “14.9% lower turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback” and that “82% of employees really appreciate receiving feedback, regardless if it’s positive or negative.” But by saying “keep doing what you’re doing,” you are providing neither positive nor negative feedback.
Your directs reports will have no idea if you are actually seeing their contributions if you try to paint them all over with this blanket statement.
Try instead: “I’m really impressed by your performance on this project. You were able to increase qualified leads by 10%, you brought everyone’s ideas together efficiently, and you finished ahead of time. I’d like for you to show the rest of the team the new framework you developed for this.”
“What should we discuss today?”
No. Just no. As we mentioned earlier, meetings are expensive. If you, the one in charge of leading the meeting, comes unprepared with no material to discuss, you’re asking for an hour of expensive, unproductive banter.
In order to lead efficient meetings, one of the first steps that Harvard Business Review suggests, is determining whether you really need a meeting. Chances are if you come with no predetermined material to discuss, the meeting is not necessary. If that’s the case, you should let your employees focus on their work and divert your time somewhere more productive.
If a manager is uttering this phrase, it also means there was no agenda distributed to attendees or developed at all. The same Harvard Business Review article also states that an effective agenda helps create efficient meetings, and should determine exactly what you are going to talk about and how much time is devoted to each topic.
Try instead: “Hello, everyone. I hope you all had a chance to take a look at the agenda I sent out yesterday. Let’s start with the first item on the list.”
“We need to think outside the box.”
Not only is this one of the most clichéd management phrases, but no one knows what it means! One of the most important ways a manager can guide their team is by providing an actual framework for them to operate off of.
There are ways in which managers can encourage their employees to think creatively without employing the dreaded “think outside of the box.” Here are a couple of tips from Ron Carucci in his Harvard Business Review article on creativity:
- Define creativity for your team without being overly prescriptive — Creative thinking must be centered around the goals of your team and your organization or else it could be costly. There should be an explicit link between the creativity that you encourage and the expectations that you set for your team.
- Balance between art and commerce — Effective creativity falls on a spectrum between art and commerce. Art is where ideas are solely presented for the sake of creativity and commerce is where ideas are only proposed for financial gain. Encourage employees that seem to fall towards either ends of the spectrum to migrate towards the center to strike the perfect balance.
- Make space for collaboration — Collaboration is inherently creative. Good, creative ideas are molded into great, creative ideas when multiple minds are working towards the same goal.
Try instead: “This is a new type of problem that we haven’t experienced before. It might require some creativity on our part, but I would suggest…”
Even in an age where emails, phone calls, video conferences, and Slack are taking over communication, the team meeting doesn’t seem like it will ever go out of style.
Your team meetings are an important part of team development, transparency, and communication. In order to guarantee these meetings remain productive, managers need to avoid these common phrases that may do more harm than their intended good.
Not only will refraining from these phrases increase your influence as a manager, but your employees will also thank you when they aren’t left wondering how they can improve, what they are doing well, and how they can be more creative in their work.