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Translating Your Employees: What are they Actually Telling You?

If you’re a manager or business owner, especially if you’re new to the process and still finding your feet, it may sometimes seem like you and your employees are speaking entirely different languages. When they speak, you may hear and understand every word, but you still may get the odd feeling that you’ve somehow missed the point or overlooked some essential non-verbal clue.

There are several very likely reasons for this, since the workplace is an environment built around subtle politics and artful diplomacy. In a place like this, words that are spoken are not always to be taken at face value. Here are some of the phrases that employees may use when they’re trying to tell you something else altogether.

1. “I’m fine. Everything is okay. I can handle it.”

Each of these phrases by itself can mean trouble, but when all three of them are strung together like this, something’s wrong. In fact, you can bet cash money that everything is far from okay, and whatever may be going on, the employee in question can’t really handle it and it’s time for you to step in. investigate further. Is there an internal conflict in play that requires a referee? What does the employee’s work load look like? Are there obstacles in place that are preventing her from completing her work successfully?

2. “When do you need this by?”

An employee with reasonable deadlines and a manageable workload won’t usually ask for a due date if you haven’t offered one. If his schedule is flexible, he’ll simply set himself to the task right away and complete it as soon as he can. So if he asks a leading question like this, follow up. Find out what other deadlines he’s dealing with and help him work this project into his existing schedule.

3. “Do you have a minute?”

An employee with a simple request to make or a routine report to deliver won’t usually ask for a minute (or a “sec”) in a loaded tone like this. When you hear this question, it usually means your employee has something important to say that may have an impact on her productivity and make take longer to explain than a literal minute. This phrase translates to something like “Can I sit down with you for an hour or so and talk about something that matters to me?” And when you hear it, take it seriously. Drop what you’re doing if you can, and if you don’t have time right then, make a formal appointment with her later.

For more tips on understanding your employees and finding out what motivates them and keeps them engaged, arrange a consultation with the NC staffing and business management experts at PSU.