Research shows that it’s the high-achieving employees who are most likely to be offended by a controlling boss with poor leadership skills. This behavior hurts an organization, and it hurts its best people.

One way to stop offending is to avoid a few phrases that tend to undermine and de-motivate employees, according to a report in Fast Company. You’ll be a better leader if you stop using this language.


This is common parlance in boss land, and it has an edge to it. Using this expression, the manager offers no reason why meeting a certain deadline or turning up in the office on a particular day is important. Rather, the boss is simply asserting, “You have to serve my needs.”

If someone is working on a hybrid schedule, avoid saying, “I need you to be here on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Instead, say, “If you can be here Tuesdays and Thursdays, that would be great because we can get the whole team together on those days.”


This is another grating expression because the language is punitive. It’s better to say to your employee, “We need to provide our stakeholders with the quarterly numbers, as I believe we discussed at our last meeting. Can you get those to me this week?” The tone of this is more collaborative and will end up getting better results.


This is not a request, it is an order, and it suggests an abrupt, top-down attitude. Sometimes you may be in a rush, but that’s never an excuse for being curt. Get in the habit of explaining any request you have, including the most urgent ones. If the spreadsheet must be finished by 5 p.m., make clear why that’s so important. Discuss who’ll be waiting for it and what decisions rest on those data.


Here’s another unintentional put-down that bosses sometimes use. “That may be so” is a cursory acknowledgment that the subordinate may have said something true or valid; however, the “but” tells the employee that the boss’s opinion is the only important one. A better approach would be to say, “I see what you mean,” or “that’s true,” and then follow with “and” rather than “but.”


This expression shows no empathy or understanding. It’s simply the boss pulling rank. This harsh turn of phrase is sometimes used when a subordinate has had trouble completing an assignment and they’re explaining what went wrong. They are already feeling vulnerable; don’t put them down.

A better way of handling that situation is to listen and offer guidance about how the challenge might be handled. Offering advice, rather than issuing a reprimand, makes it likely that the employee will do better next time.

“NO …”

This seemingly innocuous two-letter word is a go-to expression for many people in authority. Who hasn’t heard “No, that won’t work” from their boss? In whatever context you say no, it carries a lot of baggage — including a sense of disappointment and dismissiveness. A better phrase? “Let’s give it a try.”