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18 of the most powerful things a manager can say to employees

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Front-line managers get the awesome responsibility of setting the mood at work almost every day.

Say something worthwhile — and BAM! — you boost productivity, engagement and culture. Those are some of the most powerful things a boss can do.

There’s serious, long-standing research to prove this, too. Gallup has found in the 20 years they’ve measured engagement that managers have the biggest impact on how engaged employees are.

The direct boss is responsible for a 70% variance in engagement scores. Simply put, a great boss — who says and does great things — can garner a 90% engagement rating. A jerk boss — who says or does the wrong things, or generally says and does nothing — can garner a 20% engagement rating.

Put great boss and bad boss in one workplace, and engagement levels might hover around a disappointing 50%.

Powerful things aren’t dramatic

Here’s the good news: The most powerful things leaders say to employees aren’t necessarily dramatic, deeply meaningful or well-thought-out.

The right words — often times just simple and honest — and tone can motivate employees and increase efficiency.

Even better, the right words help build relationships and improve company culture.

“Strong relationships are key to all kinds of workplace outcomes — from performance to innovation, and engagement to retention,” says Elizabeth Weingarten, the Head of Behavioral Science Insights at Torch. “But strong connections don’t happen automatically, and particularly in hybrid environments. Organizations are beginning to realize that they need to help their people develop the kinds of relational skills required to create and deepen their links with colleagues.”

To that, here are 18 phrases that leaders want to use often to set up employees for success:

1. Good morning

It’s small but important to connect on a personal level at the start of any shift.

2. Sure, let’s try it

Giving a green light to employees’ ideas lets them grow – and potentially benefits everyone.

3. I understand

It’s an especially important phrase when an idea doesn’t work. But listening to understand – and communicating that you’ve done just that – helps build goodwill.

4. I know I can count on you for …

The key is to cite a specific, unique strength or talent. The recognition encourages employees to live up to the expectation.

5. What do you think?

Most employees want to contribute to success. Asking for feedback shows you value their opinions and need their input to reach goals.

6. I trust you

Showing confidence in employees’ decisions will build everything from morale to skills.

7. Here’s an example

Regularly using examples to better explain requests, expectations, projects or perspectives helps everyone avoid miscommunication and failures.

8. What’s getting in the way of doing your job effectively?

Managers set everyone up for success when they proactively help employees remove obstacles to doing their work.

9. What’s on your plate right now?

It’s a good idea to ask this before doling out more work so no one gets overwhelmed. Plus, a status check can help ensure work is fairly distributed.

10. Here’s why we’re doing this

When you explain reasons behind expectations, employees are more likely to buy in and embrace changes.

11. How can we do this better?

This conveys a “we’re in this together” attitude – something every group needs to hear after a failure or before making changes.

12. That was my fault

Managers who admit their mistakes create a culture where it’s OK for anyone to fail. It’s also important to own up to mistakes and learn from them.

13. Tell me how your day/week/project is going

This gives managers the opportunity to show employees their listening skills. Show interest and employees will stay interested in their jobs.

14. How are your kids/dogs/parents?

Acknowledging and being interested in their lives outside work – with respect to their privacy – shows you care about them as people, not just employees.

15. What are your goals?

When you understand employees’ professional and personal goals, you can stay on top of what motivates them.

16. Ask me anything

This can eliminate a phrase that’s more intimidating than it appears: “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Employees are sometimes afraid their question is dumb, so they won’t ask it. Opening up the floor to anything builds comfort.

17. You’re right

Some leaders’ egos don’t allow them to even consider that they’re wrong and an employee is right. You’ll yield more power when you recognize ideas better than yours and make employees feel great for offering them.

18. You can count on me

Good relationships are built on collaboration. Employees need to hear that you’re there for them.

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