One of the biggest management mistakes any manager can make is letting the word “don’t” dominate their management style. Yet it’s fairly common practice for many managers — especially ones who are new to the job.
So what happens when you use “don’t”
When we hear the word “don’t” aimed right at us, it can cause any communication flow to get jammed. Perhaps it triggers memories of parents wagging their fingers at us. Or simply times when we’ve been “bad”.
As a result, our guard goes up. And this can set in motion a set of mental precautions that will try to help us avoid any future “don’t” warnings. Also, emotion-laden limits like these can get in the way of our work product — and even our work relationships.
Giving a list of don’ts — don’t take too long — don’t bother people — don’t make the same mistakes you made last time — don’t create any boring presentations — well, none of that is helpful. And it’s certainly not the way to get someone on board and aimed in a positive, thoughts-flowing direction.
In fact, managers who continually tell us “don’t do that again” or “don’t take a certain set of actions” create unhappy workplaces. So always using the negative to convey how you want employees to behave or some desired outcome is not a management style that will get you very far.
So how do you tell staff what you want?
Negative events can leave a powerful impression. And so can a negative management style, which can leave employees second-guessing every move. People are much more likely to blossom when given directions and support — and positive feedback along the way.
Lots of don’ts and warnings (also negative feedback and stories of how people failed them) can leave your staff feeling confused and self-protective. Not the way to get the best out of them. Nor the way to leave them feeling good about themselves and their work.
On the other hand, not to confuse things too much, you don’t want to tell them exactly what to do. A management style that shows you have faith in your employees — and gives them room to be creative — is a better way to go. And that would include filling them in on the larger picture, so they have a sense of ownership in management goals.
One final thought
Now, I’m not saying a boss has to be all sweetness and light. Lord knows that could get annoying — and feel unreal. Even great bosses need to let off some steam now and then. Just make sure negativity and steam aren’t the main tools in your management style toolkit.
You and your employees will be a lot happier when you replace “don’t” with trust, support, and goals that leave room for them to add their own ideas. And yes, even room to fail now and then.
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