Ask Dew: How can I give direction without sounding bossy or mean?

Ask Dew Question Mark BubbleDew: Every time I tell my associate to correct an error or tell her to do something she says I’m being bossy or mean. How can I change my approach? -Carl

Carl, it looks like you’ve already taken the first step: realizing you need to change your approach. I’ve found that this kind of misunderstanding generally revolves around two issues:

  1. you didn’t set the proper expectations, and/or
  2. your heart isn’t in the right place when you make your request or correction.

Setting the Expectations

Sometimes, we hire new employees and assume they can read our minds, or that their background and expectations are the same as ours. Make sure you’ve given your employees specific (preferably written) guidelines that lay out your expectations right up front.

For example: if you catch your employee using Facebook when they should be working, you may be (justifiably) frustrated when you tell them to get off of Facebook. But did you ever tell them that Facebook use was only acceptable at lunch (or not acceptable at all)? If their last employer had no issues with Facebook use, then that could explain the difference between your expectations and theirs.

If you have an expectation issue, it’s not too late to fix the problem. Schedule a one-on-one with your associate and have a respectful conversation where you lay out your guidelines and expectations. Start there and you’ll likely see a difference.

Say it with Love

Secondly, let’s address where your heart is at when you give direction. Most people don’t want to talk about love in the workplace, but I’m going to go there. I’m not saying you have to be tender with your associates or that you should coddle them. But you need to address your heart before speaking to them. And when you say it – say it with love. I mean it.

The tone of voice some professionals use with their co-workers disgusts me. I’ve heard yelling and degrading language, I’ve even seen employees driven to tears. That kind of behavior just has no place in the workplace.

If you care about your employees (and you should), then show it. Pay attention to your language and your tone – even on the little requests. It’s been proven that people are more willing to assist others when they think they need help.

For example:

You: “I need some help with this report. Do you have a minute?”
Your Assistant: “Sure, I’ll be right there.”


You: “Can you come here?”
Your Assistant: “What do you want?” (with a huff while rolling her eyes).

If you still feel uncomfortable using the word “love” when thinking about your employees and team members, just remember: “love” is the word you want them to use when they describe how they feel about working with you. Addressing them with any other intentions just gives them a different word to use. It’s up to you.

Until next time – go sell some stuff!

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