The boss report: Tricks for communicating

Tried-and-true ticks for communicating everything from praise to "You're fired."

The Boss report: 2006 | 2005

Intro | The vanishing boss | The leader of tomorrow | Staying healthy | Tricks for communicating | How to exude power

Art of praise

It’s widely acknowledged praising employees is a cost-efficient way for managers to boost employee morale. But bosses are often criticized for doling out praise indiscriminately, while being out of touch with who really deserves recognition.

Most people like getting compliments, and no one wants good work to go unappreciated. So, master the art of praise by making a positive comment when truly praise-worthy behaviour is displayed. Ensure your praise specifies the action being commended. Don’t just tell someone they’re amazing. Instead, try: “You did a fantastic job negotiating that sale.”

Hand-written notes, e-mails, and voice messages are all legitimate ways of getting the message across. Tangible rewards such as bonuses, time off or gifts are effective ways to express appreciation too. Also, think about whether the praise is best delivered in private, or in front of co-workers.

Art of the pep talk

You can praise a stellar employee until you’re blue in the face, and still find yourself with a disillusioned charge. Even high performers become disenchanted.

When faced with a good worker gone bad, try a technique dubbed the “positive reprimand.” Chat with the employee, citing past examples of good work, and let them know current performance isn’t up to snuff. Ask them about their change of attitude, and, together, brainstorm ways to get them motivated again.

More money might be the solution. But chances are other factors are more important. You don’t want to reward bad behaviour, but altering the employee’s situation, perhaps by providing more independence, more challenging assignments or more responsibility, can help get them back on track. Setting goals together can also be a powerful tool, especially if you reward the employee once goals are met.

Art of the sack

Before firing an employee for cause, be sure to provide clear, written warnings that outline the person’s delinquent behaviour. Indicate that if they don’t get their act together, their contract will be terminated.

Be sure to do the actual axing in private, with a witness present. Earlier in the week is better than a Friday afternoon — choosing a Monday or Tuesday allows managers to keep a lid on gossip, while permitting the fired individual to start the job hunt.

Prepare what you will say, and include a thorough explanation. Allow the dismissed employee to ask questions, but don’t get drawn into an argument. Discuss severance; if possible, give the fired person options.

Above all, be respectful. People usually know a firing is coming. Angry outbursts are rare. But actions that embarrass the fired person could come back to haunt you — in the form of a lawsuit.