17 phrases that will encourage your employees to greater heights of success. By Todd Patkin

What were your last 10 or 15 employee conversations like? Chances are they included phrases like, “I need you to finish that project by the end of the day,” or “How much longer do you think it’ll take to finish that design the client requested?” After all, you can’t run a business without addressing these types of issues. And, chances are, unless they were delivered in a, shall we say, forceful tone of voice, your employees don’t mind hearing pertinent instructions and questions. So why does their morale seem to be wilting?

The problem might not be what you’re saying, but what you’re not saying. The good news is with a few well-chosen words, you can nurture employee relationships and help their engagement blossom this spring.

They’d never bring it up themselves, but there are certain phrases your employees really want to hear from you. Some have to do with affirmation; others center on encouragement, reassurance, respect, gratitude or trust. When you verbalize these things (It only takes only a few seconds of your time) you will notice a big change in your employees’ motivation, commitment and productivity.

If you start incorporating these phrases into your at-work vocabulary, your employees’ engagement will grow this spring:

1. “I need your help.”

The age of rule-with-an-iron-fist, top-down leadership is fading fast. More and more, organizations in all industries are realizing that there’s an almost-magical power in the synergy of teams.

So the next time you’re facing a difficult decision or brainstorming options, ask your team for help. Rather than losing respect for you as a leader, they’ll appreciate that you treated them as valued partners; they’ll feel more invested in your company’s future because they had more of a hand in creating it.

2. “How is your family?”

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Your employees will be more loyal and more motivated if they feel valued as individuals, not just as job descriptions. So get to know each team member on an individual basis and incorporate that knowledge into your regular interactions.

3. Showing genuine interest and caring is the greatest motivator.

When you dare to “get personal,” your employees’ desire to please you will skyrocket. Take advantage of every opportunity to let your people know that you are thinking about them. Recommend books that you think they might enjoy. Send motivational quotes to employees who might appreciate them. Don’t be afraid to generate meaningful relationships.

4. “What do you need from me?”

Often, employees are anxious about asking the boss for what they need, whether it’s updated office equipment, more time to complete a project, advice, etc. They may fear a harsh response, want to avoid looking needy or simply feel that it’s “not their place” to ask for more than you’ve already provided. By explicitly asking what you can give them, you extend permission for your people to make those requests – and they’ll certainly appreciate it.

5. Treat any requests you receive seriously.

If you can’t give an employee what he or she asks for, explain why and work with that person to find another solution. Either way, this question, and the conversations it sparks, can give you valuable insight regarding how to improve your company’s operations, facilities and culture. It can also show you how to best develop and support individual team members.

6. “I noticed what you did.”

Every day, your employees do a lot of “little” things that keep your company running smoothly and customers coming back. Smiling at customers after each service call, double-checking properties for any debris instead of leaving it and so forth. Unfortunately, in many organizations these everyday actions are taken for granted, which (understandably) has a negative effect on employee morale.

7. “Thank you.”

Yes, your employees may crave recognition for doing the mundane parts of their jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t also appreciate a heartfelt “thank you” for bigger accomplishments. “Thanks for being so patient with Mrs. Smith – I know she can be a difficult customer.”

8. People love to hear positive feedback about themselves.

And in most cases, they’ll be willing to work a lot harder to keep the compliments, and thanks coming. Praise, especially when it comes from an authority figure, is incredibly fulfilling. (And sadly, it’s also rare.) Praise and acknowledge your people in a positive way more often than you criticize them. Negative feedback tends to stick in most people’s memories longer, so you need to counterbalance it.”

9. Recognize and compliment employees in front of their peers.

Don’t stop with a “mere” compliment when an employee experiences a win; tell the rest of the team, too!

10. “What would you like to do here?”

Sure, you originally hired each of your employees to do specific jobs. But over time, your company has grown and changed and so have your people. Check in with each one of them periodically to ask what they’d like to be doing. You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that your employees have skills and abilities beyond what you had imagined.

11. “I have bad news.”

You certainly don’t mind sharing good news with your employees, but bad news is a different story. Your instinct might be to play down negative developments, or even keep them to yourself entirely.

Nevertheless, your employees deserve to hear the truth from you as soon as possible. They aren’t stupid and will be able to tell when something is “up” even if you don’t acknowledge it. When you treat your people like responsible adults by being honest and open, they will appreciate your transparency. Often you’ll find that they’re willing to voluntarily double their efforts to help you turn the tide.

12. “What do you think?”

Maybe you’ve never put much emphasis on the thoughts and opinions of your employees. After all, they come to work each day and to perform specific tasks. As a leader, it’s your job to decide what those tasks should be and how they should be carried out, right? Well, yes, strictly speaking. But this unilateral approach to leading your team sends the impression that you’re superior (even if that’s not your intent) and also contributes to disengagement.

13. “Here’s how our company works and where we stand.”

In many companies, employees in sales don’t know much about what’s happening in operations. Likewise, the folks in accounting aren’t really familiar with how things in the shop work. And so on and so forth. Generally, this state of affairs doesn’t cause too many problems. Helping your employees make connections regarding how your company works from top to bottom will streamline internal processes, reduce misunderstandings and promote team spirit.

14. “That’s OK. We all make mistakes.

Let’s talk about how to fix this.”

Mistakes are going to happen. And in many instances the impact they have on your company revolves around how you as a leader handle them.

Obviously, you shouldn’t take mistakes, especially those involving negligence, incompetence, or dishonesty, lightly. But when your employees have made an honest mistake, try to be as understanding with them as you would be with your own family members.

15. “You deserve a reward.”

Simple things like gratitude, respect and autonomy make people far more happy than, say, big salaries and corner offices. You will be hard-pressed to find an employee who doesn’t appreciate these things.

16. “I know you can do it.”

Of course you should try to hire employees who are confident and self-directed. But even the most self-assured individuals appreciate an explicit vote of confidence from their leaders.

17. “This task is in your hands – I’m stepping back.”

Most micromanaging leaders don’t set out to annoy or smother their employees. The problem is, they care (a lot!) and want to make sure everything is done just so and that no balls are dropped or opportunities missed. The problem is, excessive hovering can give employees the impression that you don’t trust them or have faith in them, a belief that actively undermines engagement.

Business is about reaching and motivating each of your employees on a personal level so that they care about contributing to your organization’s ultimate success. This season, which phrases will you be adding to your at-work vocabulary?