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5 Things Employees Say That Aren’t What They Mean

April 1, 2018

Your day moves incredibly fast. You’ve got a dozen different forces pulling at you. So it’s incredibly tempting to overlook the casual comments people make — to brush off something that sounds reasonable with a ‘sure, no problem’. But oh, the magic moment is right there, the opportunity to listen to what’s really going on below the surface. It’s the key to changing your style from problem solver to cultural leader. Your team will really appreciate it. And if you’ve got a boss, they’ll be thrilled.

Here’s five of the most common things you’re used to hearing — and taking at face value — that are opportunities to  get to the stuff that really matters  to your team. It’s not that they’re not telling you the truth. It’s that they’re telling you the truth in a version that’s acceptable. It’s your job to decipher the grittier version underneath, and do something about it.

  1. When they say ‘I’d like a raise’ you should be hearing:  ‘I’m not feeling valued — personally — for the work I do here. I’m not looking for all the credit, but I want to be acknowledged in a meaningful way for my individual contributions. Asking for a raise is my last resort.’
  2. When they say ‘Can I work from home today?’ you should be hearing:  ‘This week has been hell and I just need a break. It’s so frustrating that we keep bumping our heads against the same wall on this project.’
  3. When they say  ‘When do you need that by?’  you should be hearing: ‘We have way too many projects going on right now. Can you please clarify where this fits on the priorities list. And, it would be great if you could help us clean out the closet on all the half-finished ideas here so they’re not taking up so much mental space.’
  4. When they say ‘Sorry I’m late’ you should be hearing: ‘I just don’t feel inspired working here. I’m not sure what it is — I wanted this job when I first got here — but I go home at night feeling uncreative.’
  5. When they say, ‘I’m not sure why that happened’ you should be hearing:  ‘Come on, you know exactly why that happened … it’s because ______ did ________ again. When are you guys going to let them go for the sake of the rest of us?’

Sometimes as they say — a cigar is just a cigar — but mostly it’s the other thing.

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