Casual comments repeated frequently are not casual! When a person repeats the same phrase, they may act as if it is “off the cuff” but it is an indication of how they really feel and what they believe.

Over the last weeks, I have experienced incidents where leaders have made casual comments, and I have witnessed the impact these comments have on hiring, engagement, and employee relations.

An individual recently turned down a lucrative job offer because a senior leader said you work for me 24/7. This may have been an impromptu comment, but the candidate did not know that, and believed the message was “I can call at ANY time”. The candidate turned down the role because that comment was not aligned with his value system and desire to spend time with family. He believed the comment was true. If it was not, why was it said? Good point!

I recently attended a meeting and the leader looked around the group and said “In the future, I want to bring in people who reflect our community”. The group she was speaking to were diverse, and primarily baby boomers. When you “read between the lines” the leader was saying, I am looking for younger talent. This comment and the subsequent feeling of not being appreciated sent a negative message that was not aligned with the culture of the organization and impacted employee engagement. If “younger” people are hired and given assignments without the desired experience, this could potentially result in employee relations issues.

Spontaneous communication may have unintended consequences. You may already be thinking of times where this has occurred in your organization. How do you know? An employee may come to you and provide feedback that the comment confused them or caught them off guard. An employee may ask clarifying questions that indicate the communication may not have been as detailed as required. You may also experience a change in the behavior of an employee, they may shutdown, go undercover, or agree with everything that is said to avoid confrontation.

How do you prevent this from occurring?

WHEN INTRODUCING AN INITIATIVE, COMMUNICATION IS KEY!! Share the verbal or written introduction with a peer or team member and ask them to identify any information that is unclear, misleading, or not in alignment with the culture or values of your company. If they provide feedback that the message could be misconstrued, modify the content and/or delivery. Choose your words carefully! Organizations typically spend significant time in the planning and program development phases of an initiative and less time planning the communication that leads to flawless execution. If you have introduced a process or program and the execution did not go as planned, chances are the outcome was a result of gaps in the introductory communication. You may receive feedback after the initiative has been introduced that includes misunderstanding or “pushback”. This is an opportunity to clarify and align the team regarding your goals and their roles.

Despite your best intentions, you will have interactions that create inadvertent outcomes. If someone brings this to your attention, apologize if this was not your intention. Reframe the communication and clarify to ensure the employee has complete understanding.

When you notice an employee has shut down, reach out and ask if everything is OK as you have noticed a change in their behavior. The change may be a result of a business concern and you can address the issue at the time it is brought to your attention. If the behavior change is a result of a personal situation, listen and offer feedback only if the employee has requested you provide input. We have all shared personal concerns with another who takes the opportunity to provide insight and advice with out permission. This is unwelcome and can backfire and impact the long- term relationship.

Here are some key take-away’s:
1. When introducing a company initiative (program, process, or policy), review communications with a peer or team member to ensure the intended message is clear.
2. When a message has unintended consequences, apologize for the misunderstanding (if appropriate), and clarify.
3. When an employee shares a personal situation that is causing a change in behavior, ask for permission before you offer guidance.
4. Choose your words carefully. Once said, you own them!