We’ve all been there: in the heat of a business meeting or during a casual conversation at the coffee machine, a phrase slips out that, in hindsight, might not have been the wisest choice of words.
It’s not uncommon for business owners to make a blunder, and you often don’t even realize how it sounds until you get feedback or reflect on it later. The classic, almost legendary, “Are you dumb?” directed at an employee might be spoken out of frustration or even blurted with a touch of sarcastic humor, but it can leave a lasting dent in team morale.
So buckle up and let’s delve into the maze of ‘dumb stuff’ that business owners often say and tips on dealing with team members who may not excel in certain areas or make mistakes.
Things Business Owners Should Never Say
“I am the boss here, not you.”
One phrase that can particularly rankle employees and stifle creativity is “I am the boss here, not you.” This chest-thumping assertion of authority doesn’t just quell any potential dialogue, but it also creates an environment where individuals feel less valued and hesitant to share their ideas. In fact, you’ve just invited “quiet quitting.”
Remember, the strength of a business lies in its team. According to Gallup, companies that encourage open dialogue and collaborative decision-making report seeing a 14% increase in productivity.
“I don’t pay you to think.”
Another classic ‘gem’ from the repository of dumb things is, “I don’t pay you to think.” People aren’t cogs in a machine; they are thinking, and feeling individuals who bring diverse skills and perspectives to the table.
A study in the Harvard Business Review found that companies that cultivate a culture of intellectual curiosity can enhance decision-making processes, increase innovation, and boost work engagement. So next time, before this phrase slips out, remember that you indeed pay humans to think. That’s what differentiates a successful business from a mediocre one.
“This is how we’ve always done it.”
The phrase “This is how we’ve always done it” is a death sentence for creativity and improvement. In an era where businesses need to adapt quickly to ever-changing market dynamics, clinging to the old ways is the slow path to disaster.
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
– Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric
If you find this phrase slipping out of your mouth, pause and ask yourself, “Well, why is it that we’ve always done it this way?” Then consider asking your team what ideas they have for improvement. Oftentimes it takes someone that brings an outside perspective to see what us “experts” have become blind to.
While it’s natural for business owners to occasionally blurt out ill-advised comments, it’s important to maintain a conscious awareness of our words. After all, language shapes culture, and culture shapes growth.
Why Do Some Employees Not Do Their Best?
A common question that plagues many employers is, “Why are some of my people not performing their best?” Often, the answer lies not in the capabilities of the individual, but in the environment, training or expectations set by the leadership.
If there’s a history of judgment or negative criticism, they might feel like they are constantly under the threat of being berated or belittled. Then, their motivation dips and they start doing just enough to get by. When people perceive their input as not valued, they may disengage (or “quiet quit”), and their performance will continue to decline.
Another reason employees fail to perform is that they aren’t properly trained. As a manager, you might assume that because they had a good resume or some prior experience that they should be able to pick up the job skills on their own, but this is a delusion. Even the brightest, most experienced individuals need training. They need training on your systems, your standards, and your expectations.
The ‘dumb employee’ phenomenon is rarely about the worker’s abilities but more a reflection of the leadership and workplace culture. In the words of Simon Sinek, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
How to Deal With Dumb Employees?
Addressing the perceived ‘dumb employee’ issue requires a three-pronged approach – leadership responsibility, fostering a positive work environment, and investing in professional development.
First, take ownership over the situation. When you hired that person, you had high hopes. So either you had poor recruiting and screening processes that caused you to hire an unqualified person in the first place, or you failed to provide training and accountability, so their performance failed to live up to your unspoken expectations.
Harsh truth: business is a mirror, and the results (or lack thereof) are a direct reflection of your leadership.
Now that you’re ready to take responsibility and begin to rectify the situation, be intentional in establishing a culture that values mutual respect, open communication, and constructive feedback. According to a survey conducted by Willis Towers Watson, companies that focus on nurturing a healthy culture are 1.5 times more likely to report above-average revenue growth.
Moreover, provide opportunities for the worker to learn and grow. This can be through skill development programs, cross-departmental projects, or mentoring initiatives that will help enhance their skills and knowledge.
If you have a problematic coworker who is struggling with basic tasks they should know, give that individual clear feedback, a detailed action plan to improve, and provide the necessary support and accountability. It might be helpful to buddy them up with another team member who could serve as a mentor, but that won’t replace the support and accountability that needs to come from their manager. In most cases, check-ins should be daily until they get back on track. With this level of training and support, you’ll either see a dramatic improvement within just a few weeks, or it will be clear to both parties that it’s time to part ways.
Ultimately, business owners need to remember that the success of a business depends on its team. When people feel appreciated and valued, it leads to greater job satisfaction, increased loyalty, and improved productivity.
So refrain from using words like “dumb” or “stupid” – after all, being kind is always smarter!
Great Ways to Challenge Your Own Biases
One efficient way to challenge your biases is to cultivate a growth mindset, a concept developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. This involves viewing abilities and intelligence as qualities that can be developed rather than fixed traits. In other words, when you are dealing with a team member you’re perceiving as being ‘dumb’, try to replace this notion with the idea that the individual has the potential to learn and improve.
Another actionable approach to resolve this issue is to implement diversity and inclusion training within the company. Such sessions can help you identify unconscious biases, foster empathy, and gain a wider perspective. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “Understanding and tackling unconscious bias helps organizations to bridge the diversity gap, resulting in enhanced decision-making and ultimately better business outcomes.”
As part of your self-reflection, whenever you find yourself getting agitated about a particular person or circumstance, ask yourself questions like: What if I’m wrong? What must their perspective be? What hidden genius exists within this person that I am missing?
Lastly, as Les Brown puts it, “you can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame.” That is why it’s crucial to regularly seek feedback from your peers, your team, or even an outside coach. This practice not only assists in pinpointing any inherent biases but also strengthens the bond of trust within the team.
Dealing with ‘dumb employees’ is less about addressing the person’s shortcomings and more about crafting an empowering culture by being the type of leader that great team members want to follow.
It’s about fostering open communication, promoting learning and development, and challenging our own biases. Remember, the words we choose as leaders have the power to motivate or demoralize, to inspire or to extinguish enthusiasm. Let’s ensure we choose wisely, and create an environment where every person can thrive and contribute to the success of the business.
As Richard Branson rightly said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
How do you deal with useless people at work ?
Dealing with an underperforming member of the team can be a challenging task. However, it’s important to first approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Remember, labeling someone as ‘useless’ is counterproductive and detrimental to the work environment. Maybe they struggle with certain tasks, so the best course of action would be to initiate a conversation to understand their challenges. Figure out what type of training or support they need, or if perhaps they’ve been put in the wrong position.
Always aim to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement within your organization. As the saying goes, “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.” Even in challenging situations, there may be opportunities for growth and learning.
Finally, if the issue persists, give clear feedback and keep good documentation on your performance-related conversations and action plans. If it does become necessary to part ways, you’ll know that you did your best to help the other person succeed, and they can move on with dignity to a role where they will be better suited, and likely find more enjoyable.
What to do with dumb employees?
If the person doesn’t understand something you’ve told them repeatedly, it may be time to reassess your communication methods. Communication is a mirror, so it’s up to the leader to take responsibility for clear and effective communication, and to check for their understanding.
There are three primary learning styles – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/experiential. If you’re not getting through, try a different approach. If verbal instructions don’t work, try providing visual instructions, or demonstrate the task, then give the team member the opportunity to try it for themselves with your supervision.
Ensure that the employee fully understands the expectations, and the consequences of their actions or inactions. Clarify the potential impact on the team or client if they fail to perform their tasks adequately. However, ensure the tone of your communication is constructive, not instilling fear, but encouraging improvement for the good of something beyond themselves.
Remember, everyone has a different learning curve. If your team is continuously failing despite your efforts, maybe you need to introspect. Ask yourself, “Am I providing clear instructions? Am I supporting their learning and growth? Am I a good leader?” Leadership is not just about delegating tasks and expecting results, but also about nurturing your team and helping them overcome their weaknesses. So, consider taking their feedback and work together to create a better work environment.
How to turn ‘dumb’ employees into effective contributors?
If an employee is underperforming, consider it as an opportunity to develop and nurture their skills. Begin by having open, constructive conversations about their performance and identifying areas for improvement. Provide clear, actionable feedback and set realistic, achievable goals.
Invest in training and development opportunities tailored to their needs. This could range from industry-specific workshops to one-on-one mentoring sessions. Furthermore, encourage a culture of continuous learning and growth within your team.
Lastly, ensure to recognize and appreciate their progress and achievements. Positive reinforcement can significantly boost team morale and performance.
How to deal with a frustratingly dumb coworker?
If you’re finding it challenging to work with someone you perceive as unintelligent, try to approach the situation with empathy and patience.
First, consider whether there’s a communication gap. Yes, they might learning slower or differently than you, but sometimes “dumb” coworkers just need clarity, but are hesitant to admit their lack of understanding, fearing your reaction if they disclose it to you. Make sure to state your expectations and instructions are clear and well-understood. If the issues persist, identify specific areas where they are struggling and offer assistance or resources to help them improve.
Remember, fostering a positive and inclusive work environment is a first and foremost a leader’s responsibility. While it might be tempting to express frustration or resort to name-calling, venting, or using an exasperated tone in communication, such behavior is neither helpful nor professional. Instead, take a lighthearted, curious approach. Make it your mission to pull the best out of each individual, and give them every opportunity and resource they need to succeed.
After all, if you were struggling in a role, isn’t that the kind of boss you’d want to work for?