Translating Your Employees: A Simple Guide

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Sometimes it may seem like you and your employees are speaking completely different languages…and there are plenty of excellent reasons for this. It’s not always easy to toss diplomacy aside and tell your listener exactly what’s on your mind in blunt terms, especially if that person is your boss. But there’s no reason to let an employee’s natural sense of wisdom and discretion stand between you. Do the best you can to meet him halfway, even if that means reading between the lines and giving him the benefit of the doubt. Here are a few things he may be trying to say.

1. “Do you have a second?”

Translation: “Do you have an indefinite period of time that may be far longer than a second? I have something important to say that may have an impact on my productivity and the success of your company.”

When an employee uses these words, stop what you’re doing, invite her in and offer her a chair, and listen carefully as she speaks. If she’s saying something you expect, or delivering a standard request or report, she’d probably just speak instead of asking for “a sec”. This term usually means something’s on her mind, and it’s in your best interests to pay close attention. If you don’t have time right now, make a clear appointment with her later. But whatever you do, don’t brush her off.  

2. “When would you like this by?”

Translation: “I have a lot on my plate right now. I need a specific deadline for this so I can find a way to schedule it in.”

Employees rarely announce when they’re overburdened. So it’s a manager’s job to keep a close eye on signs of burnout and overscheduling. Be proactive; if you sense that an employee may be overbooked, don’t wait for her to tell you directly. By that time it may be too late. Instead, inquire about her workload and see what you can do to redistribute the weight.

3. “Everything is fine. I can handle it.”

Nobody says everything is fine when everything is actually fine. And people don’t usually announce that they can handle things unless they’re facing something they may not be able to handle. If you hear these words, look closer and find out what’s going on. Cries for help and support tend to be very indirect in a professional setting, so ask the right questions and address the problem without waiting for an engraved invitation. 

For more information about how to interpret your employees—including their words, their actions and their body language- reach out to the experienced Little Rock staffing and business management experts at CSS.

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