THE BLOG
11/30/2015 05:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Careless Conversations That Can Threaten Your Small Business

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As a small business owner or supervisor, managing employee relations is a critical part of your job. But more than the obvious tasks associated with employee relations, every little thing you do--every conversation you have with employees--can either help or harm your business.

And in today's age of instant communication, it's more important than ever to take your position as an owner or manager seriously.

3 Careless Conversations to Avoid

Whether in the office, at a business lunch, or on a casual outing, what you say to or about your employees matters. Include here email conversations and communications as well. Anything can come back to haunt you in the future. Here are three examples of specific conversations to avoid.

1. False Promises

Even something as innocent as telling an employee you "see a future" for him in management at your company is dangerous. We all enjoy boosting the confidence of others, but be careful not to promise something that you can't guarantee will happen.

The important thing to remember about false promises is that they often happen before you realize it. A casual remark may be misconstrued as a promise of a promotion, even if that's not how you intend it. These statements sometimes are characterized as a "contract" in a litigation situation.

2. Empty Threats

Just as bad as making a promise you can't deliver on is making a threat you won't (or can't) see through. Threatening a demotion, termination, or suspension is useless if employees know the punishment won't happen and can make you look like a bully. If you have children, you're familiar with this conundrum. You want to make your kids listen, but threatening them with no follow-through only aggravates the situation.

The same is true of employees. To boost employee relations -- and in turn, employee engagement -- avoid making empty threats. Or, if you aren't dealing directly with employees, be sure to let the supervisors below you know that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated.

3. Inappropriate Comments

Like it or not, we live in a world of inclusiveness. What does this have to do with employee relations? Basically, it means that business owners and managers need to be more careful than ever not to insult or offend employees.

Even if it's not your intent to offend, or maybe you simply didn't realize your actions would offend, the ramifications of workplace discrimination are not to be taken lightly. Offenses occur when comments are directly aimed at someone's religion, gender, race, or sexual orientation, so be aware and practice sensitivity in each and every professional conversation. Keep in mind that in FY2014, 88,778 charges of workplace discrimination were filed with the EEOC.

Consequences of Careless Conversations

Even the best HR solutions can't save you if you've gotten in over your head as a result of a careless conversation. These conversations lead to poor employee relations, which often have the following consequences:

The list above isn't all-inclusive, but it gives you an idea of what happens when communication isn't taken seriously in the workplace.

Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.

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