3 Ways Leaders Should Talk About Employees

3 Ways Leaders Should Talk About Employees image DATE: February 1, 2021

We believe leaders should talk with employees, not to employees, or at employees. But should leaders talk about employees? It depends. Let’s discuss the four ways leaders should talk about employees so employees feel they can trust and respect their leaders.

4 Ways Leaders Should Talk About Employees

It happened again just last week. Someone asked me how they should handle a situation where their boss is talking about an employee to the employee’s coworkers. Picture it — as you come closer to turning a corner in the hallway, you hear your boss talking negatively about one of your favorite co-workers. Surely my boss is talking to HR or to their supervisor, you think to yourself. But you turn the corner to find her talking to simply another one of your coworkers — her employee. After a quick peek, you turn around and head in the other direction…the entire walk back to your desk your internal monologue oozing with thoughts of distrust, disrespect, and disgust.

Situations like these happen, sadly, so often. When you’re a leader, you must hold yourself to a higher standard — your employees sure do. Strong teams are built on a foundation of trust. If your people can’t trust you, it means that at any moment they could be ready to go work for someone else, questioning everything you say, and so on.

In order to help you maintain and build trust with your people, here are the three ways leaders should talk about employees.

Where: Publicly or Privately

Have you heard some version of the popular phrase “praise in public, punish in private”? This applies to leaders in the workplace. It’s great for leaders to brag on employees publicly. If your people are doing an incredible job, spread those words of praise around in public like confetti on New Year’s Eve. However, if an employee is underperforming, that’s a conversation that should happen privately, behind closed doors, and only with the underperforming employee, your supervisor, or HR (see next section⬇️).

Who: Up, Not Down

This is the only time you will hear me put “leadership weight” in someone’s position. At VHA, we believe that leadership is not about position, but your willingness to serve and take action. However, in this very specific topic, we must take your position into account.

Think about your organizational chart. When it comes to employee issues — talk up the chart, not down the chart. Your standard should be that you will not discuss employee issues with anyone below you on the org chart. Instead, you should talk up. Go to your supervisor. If your supervisor isn’t any help, go to HR.

Why shouldn’t you talk about employee issues to those people below you on the chart? Instinctively, people believe they should be able to trust their leaders to have their employee’s best interests at heart. They don’t instinctively feel the same way about their coworkers. As a leader, you have to separate yourself from your employees. If you share potentially hurtful information with an employee’s coworker, you’re opening the door for ALL of your employees to lose trust in you. Additionally, you shouldn’t be putting nails into your team’s coffin. If you start talking bad about one employee to another employee, you’re creating an environment where people start working against one another, trust is broken between all of you, and ultimately that will be the demise of any good team.

When: Not At All

There are times when leaders should and should not discuss an employee with other people in the organization. If you’re searching for a solution to a problem, seek guidance the right way (see above⬆️). If you’re just wanting to vent — don’t. As a human being, there’s no good reason for you to run someone else through the mud because a short venting session would make you feel good. This is where a leader’s emotional intelligence is key. If there’s an issue with an employee that has you worked up and you don’t actually need guidance on how to manage the situation, you need to realize that you need an emotional release. When that’s the case, find a healthy way to deal with it. Go for a walk. Eat a Snickers. Take time away from the situation and work on something else. Go back to it and deal with it when you’re level-headed.

Communicate on Purpose

Communication is the one skill that when executed correctly, can totally transform individual and team success. However, communication problems continue to be at the very top of the list of issues organizations are experiencing.

Communication is not just the words you speak…it’s why, how, when, and where you interact with someone. Going forward, be the leader that chooses to be really intentional about how you communicate — starting with talking about employees. Over time, you’ll see the positive repercussions from your due diligence.

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Our Leadership Management Training helps organizations ELEVATE PRODUCTIVITY and PROFITS through intentionally engaged leaders and teams. Learn more here: www.vanhooser.com!

About The Author:

Alyson Van Hooser, Leadership Keynote Speaker, Trainer on Millennials, Gen Z & Women in Business With the grit that only comes from tough experiences, Alyson has learned a thing or two about personal and professional success. From her management experience with Walmart, as an elected city council member, bank manager — all before the age of 30 — Alyson has wisdom well beyond her years! Her podcast, Stake: The Leadership Podcast, offers a fresh perspective on leadership and helps multiple generations successfully work together! Connect with Alyson on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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