Years ago, I had an employee come to my office to discuss getting a raise. She was a really good employee, so the request was not a crazy one. During the conversation, she told me that she had another job offer that would pay her an extra $1 per hour. This was an amount that I could have paid, so again, this was not a crazy request.
The challenge, from my perspective, was that this other job was an entirely different kind of work. The work in our office was mentally challenging, while this other job would be more physical. Both are good jobs…just very different. I told her as much. I said that I was happy to consider the raise, but she needed to consider what kind of work she wanted.
Then, with a wry smile, I said “You need to decide what you want to be when you grow up.”
We both had a good laugh about that and we promised to meet the next week to discuss her pay. The next morning I showed up to work and her keys were on her desk with a note that told me she quit.
I was stunned. I thought we had a good conversation and were both on the same page. Needless to say, I could not have been more wrong. My flippant comment about growing up had hurt her…to the point that she felt she couldn’t work for me anymore.
I didn’t mean it that way…but that was what she heard.
As leaders, in any organization, we need to understand how we are being received. Often we think we are being clear or kind or funny, but our team doesn’t hear it that way. Especially when we are dealing with delicate topics like pay, I need to be extra sensitive. I have reminded myself since then that maybe I need to put my “funny jokes” in my back pocket. In those times, it’s more important to be kind and clear.
Hard conversations are hard. So it’s important to take a bit of extra time to make sure what you think you are saying is actually what is being heard.
If not, it’s worth it to start again.
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