In coaching senior executives during product development with, I sometimes hear the phrase ‘I don’t care’, particularly when managers delegate a piece of work.
The conversation goes something like this:
Manager: ‘I need you to do this’
Team Member: ‘How would you like it done?’
Manager: ‘I don’t care’.
This is usually the end of the conversation and the manager walks back to their desk. Another occasion that I’ve heard this phrase is when under pressure and there’s just not enough time to go through the details of the task.
I want to call out the negative impact of this phrase and how it reduces the chance of something that you’re recommending or asking of, to be taken seriously.
The phrase, ‘I don’t care’ has a lot of negative connotations. It can be another way of saying ‘I do not have an interest or investment in the question or situation’. It’s not at all helping the person who was left with the task.
In terms of leadership, it’s completely the opposite of what you want to achieve; it flies in the face of what being a leader is, where you care about your people and what’s happening.
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TRY THESE PHRASES INSTEAD
Here are a few suggestions to say instead, that can make your team member feel empowered, respected and valued:
- “I’ll leave it to you to see it through” –> When you want to emphasize that you trust them and it’s now in their hands.
- “You’re the best person, you can decide” –> When you want to highlight it’s their specialty.
- “I’ll be guided by you” –> When you want to be humble and demonstrate their input matters to you.
- “See what works best for you and the team” –> When you want to emphasize they are accountable for the outcome and responsible for others.
A second common situation is when you have given a task to your team and you don’t mind when they achieve the goal. So it doesn’t matter when it gets applied but it needs to be done at some point.
I have heard people say, ‘I don’t care when you do it, just as long as you do it’. This has the same effects as ‘I don’t care’. It doesn’t empower your team. Instead, use the below phrases:
- “See what fits best with your schedule” –> Demonstrating you respect them and their time.
- “I’m open to ideas” –> Shows you are not micro-managing and willing to listen to the team.
- “See when is the right time for you and your team” –> This will significantly empower the person and reminds them that they need to consider their team to make a decision.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Some simple phrases that are commonly used can have a strong negative impact when you are leading your team. Consciously replacing them with positive, empowering phrases will help you establish yourself as a leader. It is not one grand gesture, it’s an ongoing focus on using the best language that will make all the difference.
This week, during all meetings and conversations you have with your team:
- Any time you ask any of them to do something, check to see what phrases you’re using to delegate the work. [Observe yourself]
- Actively use three (3) of the suggested phrases above and observe the difference in your direct reports’ response.