What Great Bosses Know about Talking Themselves into Trouble

Communication skills are critical for managers. The best ones work at it — from recognizing the simple power of opening lines in everyday exchanges to mastering the heavy lifting of difficult conversations.

A leader’s words have the power to engage and enlighten, motivate or deflate. That’s pretty impressive. But managers, your mouth can easily become a weapon of self-destruction. Here are six ways you can talk yourself into trouble:

1. Badmouthing your bosses: You’re not a mindless robot and you, of course, may not agree with the decisions your bosses make. You may be tempted to let your staff know you’re on their side by criticizing management. Think carefully before you do. Ask yourself: Have I expressed these concerns to my bosses? How will badmouthing management help my staff? How will they interpret what I say, and to what degree will they repeat and embellish it beyond our circle? How would I feel if my bosses heard my critical comments? What good can come of this, and how does it balance the potential harm to my team and my own career?

2. Talking about yourself: This is a challenge. You want to be friendly and personable. That involves sharing stories about yourself from time to time. You may feel there are lessons you can teach from your experiences. All true. But what form do those stories take? Are they short parables or long narratives? Are they perfect for the teaching moment at hand or a distraction for busy people? And most important, what role do you play in most of your stories? It’s OK to share a few tales in which you were the undisputed hero or genius, but I guarantee people would rather hear you teach from the lessons of your mistakes.

3. Talking about your old workplace: Want to drive people away? Waste their time telling them how good things were in the last place you worked? Leave them feeling you clearly worked with better tools, processes and people. Given today’s changing times and tough economy, spending too much time revisiting the good old days of your current workplace is also unproductive. A little historical reference for the educational purposes goes a long way. Be judicious.

4. Using humor as a weapon: I love laughter in the workplace. Joking, teasing, pranks, play — they make work fun. Long live levity — except when bosses use humor to hurt. When it’s a substitute for having tough one-on-one conversations about performance. When it enhances rather than reduces conflict, stereotyping or marginalizing people. Snarky comments clothed as “just a joke” are a lame substitute for leadership.

5. Delivering news too soon: This is a trap new managers fall into. They want to share good news like:
“We just finished budgets for next year and I was able to get a nice raise in there for you.” Imagine the embarrassment when the budget gets cut before the employee’s anniversary — and the boss has turned into a liar. Delivering bad news is equally tricky. Time the news to when it does the most good and the least harm to both the individual and the whole team.

6. Stumbling in social media: This is new territory for many managers. Plunge into Facebook or Twitter without knowledge of your company’s social media guidelines or strategy and you’re swimming at your own risk. If your public posts are personal, political or proprietary, how will your bosses or staff respond? Should you “friend” your employees on Facebook? And what about that party video you’re thinking about posting on YouTube? Will you regret it in the morning? By all means, master social media for all the good it can do for you and your work. But don’t tweet yourself into trouble.

I have two more tips for managers who don’t want to talk themselves into trouble — one is particularly important when you are selling an idea. I’ll share those tips in today’s podcast: What Great Bosses Know about Talking Themselves into Trouble.

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunesU.

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