Tweak your words

I follow a number of blogs. Some of them are not focused on business or work, and I follow them just because I like how the blogger writes/speaks and his or her voice on things. But some of them are business-related, and I especially enjoy the blogs that speak to leadership and management. In my blog Reader (the list that shows the newest posts of the blogs I follow), I took a minute to read Leadership Freak’s latest post, “7 ways to deal with weakness in others.” It reminded me of a situation in which one of my mentees asked me for advice on how to handle the admin person she was supervising. The conversation went something like this:

Mentee: It’s frustrating to me when my admin says she knows how to do something, then when I go check on her to see if the task was completed, she hasn’t finished it.

Me:  Did you ask her if she had any questions about the task you asked her to do?

Mentee: Well, not really. She should know how to do those things. It’s part of her job. But I do ask her to repeat back to me what she thought she heard me say, and I correct her if she didn’t get it right.

Me: Give me an example of what you are saying to her.

Mentee: Well, after she repeats it back to me, I ask her “Do you know how to do that?”

Me: What does she say when you ask her if she knows how to do that?

Mentee: She indicates that, yes, she does know how to do it. So since she said she knows how to do it, why can’t she complete the task? That’s what’s so frustrating to me—she tells me she knows how to do it, but it doesn’t get done.

Me: I have a suggestion that might help. Want to hear it?

Mentee: Yes.

Me:  I think if you tweak your words a bit, it might help. Think of how she might feel when you ask her if she knows how to do something. You are her boss, and you are asking her to tell you whether she might not have the skills or knowledge to complete a task. I know I would not enjoy admitting to my boss that my skill-level wasn’t up to par (I might admit it; but I certainly wouldn’t like having to admit that). Maybe she feels the same way—maybe she doesn’t want you to know that she doesn’t know how to do something to get the task done.

Mentee: I didn’t think about that. What should I say instead?

Me:  After you explain what the task is and you think she has an understanding of what you want done, try something like this:  “Would you like me to show you how to do that?” That’s softer words, and she might not be inclined to say no to your help.

The next time I checked in with my mentee to see how things were going, she had this to say:  “Thank you for telling me to tweak my language. I tried that with the admin and the admin let me show her how it could be done. It just took me a minute to show her the steps, and then she took it from there, and got the task done on time. So now, if I think there may be something she hasn’t done before, I ask her if she’d like me to show her how—instead of asking her ‘do you know how to do that.’ She takes me up on my offer to help, or she’ll tell me she does know how to do it and doesn’t need my help.”

Thanks, Leadership Freak; it’s a great list. I will hang onto this one, especially your second and third items.


2 thoughts on “Tweak your words

  1. Thank you so much for posting the link to that “7 ways to deal with weakness in others” article. I am LITERALLY going through the EXACT SAME situation at work AT THIS VERY SECOND (e.i. trying to decide whether to take a new position within the company and if it would be good move for me or not). Great timing.


    • Thanks Erin. I am glad I came across Leadership Freak’s blog. It’s cool, isn’t it, when something comes along at just the right moment? Let me know how it all turns out for you. And you might want to make a comment on Leadership Freak’s blog, too! 🙂


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