• Danielle N. Adams

3 Things Employees Say That Make Their Bosses Want to Forget/Fire Them



Whether you have 1 employee or 100, you can pretty much guarantee that no manager wants to hear the three phrases we’ll be talking about. As leaders, we must adapt to how to coach these thoughts right out of our employees’ sweet little heads so that they will be committed to the mission and vision of our business and so they will be motivated to lead themselves and others from the inside out. Keep reading for some practical responses that you can use to enhance the personal and professional development of your team.

Words are so very powerful. When you are working as a manager or in a supervisory capacity, you are already doing your best to oversee processes. The people that come with these roles are often a gift and a curse. I’m not saying I have always be a perfect employee. Guess what? Chances are, neither have you. Let’s be fair: at some point or another we’ve all uttered at least one of the next three phrases. Whether you flinched when you did it, or stood in your conviction, you did it. And now, here we are, in different places in our careers and we find ourselves suddenly realizing how disgusting it feels to be knee-deep in the muck that we’ll just call “LACK”. Lack of commitment, lack of confidence, lack of accountability or humility. You name it…but you probably wish you didn’t know it so well.

"I can't"

In this case, I am going to suppose that the employee has been given all reasonable accommodations and resources to perform a task. Without this, we’re are talking about truly being unable versus a subconscious unwillingness. Resigning yourself to “I can’t” is like giving up before you have even tried; it is the same as saying “I know my best isn’t good enough”. There are typically at least two power outages in that person’s leadership fuse box.

The first one is the inner critic: this person may be sending themselves a ransom note of sorts that always says “you’re not good enough.” This deep-seated belief has probably originated somewhere in their childhood, or in some past experience; the belief keeps that individual safe by holding her hostage in her mind. She will be too afraid to move forward.


The other power outage (which may work in tandem with the inner critic) is the assumption. Assumptions are rooted in what has happened to you in the past. This is a deeply personal block that is different for everyone. You may believe that because something happened before, it will happen again. This block is something that you accept about life, about yourself, about your world, or about the people in it, that limits you in some way.

The core intention of “I can’t” is survival and the feelings will include avoidance, lack of confidence, non-confrontational habits, guilt, shame, and blame.

"I'll try"

Please take note, this may be the only time you will ever see me reference “Star Wars” (sorry, not sorry), but Yoda wisely said, “there is do and do not, there is no try.” Saying “I’ll try” is another copout. This is shorthand for “listen, don’t get your hopes up, don’t get your expectations in a tizzy, and definitely don’t blame me when I come up short”. Or how about my personal favorite (which I shamefully uttered hopelessly as a fledgling call center representative) “I’ll see what I can do.” These phrases reek of lack of confidence. And, these phrases are flashing yellow caution signs that are telling you that your employee might want some help but is not sure or too afraid to ask for it. The intention is good, but the commitment is also lacking. Trying is like eating cotton candy for the first time in 15 years: you enjoy the sugary sweetness at first, but then you can’t wait to relieve yourself of its nausea-inducing goodness somewhere where no one is looking (and can’t hear the wretching).

Here again is where leadership power outages crop up in the form of the inner critic (self-doubt), limiting beliefs (generalizations), assumptions and interpretations.


"I'm sorry"

Translation: “my bad….again”. This isn’t your run of the mill ownership of garden variety accountability. This is like a migraine…in your eye! When that one employee looks at you sheepishly and shrugs “SORRY”; or when that other employee bites her nails feverishly awaiting punishment “tsssssh! SORRY?” Sometimes sorry is so sorry that it’s not sorry!

What sounds like an apology is at times an employee’s way of shirking responsibility altogether. Think about it: you haven’t been offered a solution or a remedy to your problem (and never mind that the employee created the problem in the first place)—all you’ve gotten is an apology. We both know you can’t take those to the bank!

What to do:

Yes, in the heat of the moment, even the best leaders may bristle at these words. You may want to forget this person, or just say to hell with it and fire them. Why would you want to invest time in someone who has given up on themselves?? RESET. As a coaching professional, I my signature success system is founded on the following action principles:


Review and Realize. You’ve already identified an opportunity for leadership growth, not only for your employee, but for yourself! You might have a pretty strong emotional reaction to any of these three phrases because of what they mean in your own personal belief system (laziness, winners, losers, quitters). Having a “forget it” mindset is the Level 1 avoidance and apathy approach. The fleeting fantasy of firing the person is Level 2 anger and resentment. So take a deep breath…and work your way over to the acceptance table. You’re welcome here—you’re only human. Embrace this reality. How long does it take you as a leader to shift your own energy from avoidance to aggression to compromise? Take this opportunity and tactfully address specific and measurable performance improvements that this employee can work on.

Energize. Remind this person of the benefits of improving. Help him/her to reconnect with what motivates them to do a good job.Encourage your staff to learn from any mistakes and remember to celebrate their successes and revisit those occasionally.

Simplify and Strategize. These three phrases are usually a symptom of a bigger problem. To overcome that, start with the smallest step you can take together to rectify the issue. Each of you should identify one possible action that can be attained within a specific time period.

Empower. Lack of confidence or feeling inadequate to affect change can definitely put a damper on enthusiasm. Rejuvenate your team by assuring them of your confidence in their ability. Sometimes the best way to change a belief is to change the feeling that is associated with it. Find ways to motivate commitment in a positive regard.

Take action. This is one is easy. My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Blanken, used to say “there’s nothing to it but to do it.” You have a plan, but it’s only any good to you if everyone is committed to acting upon it.

There it is. It's all out on the line now and we have cleansed our past of these dirty words and we're ready to move forward and enlighten others. How much does an overturned attitude effect how you view your work? How will you now approach these opportunities to redirect your employees' momentum? Talk about it here.


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