Things Successful Leaders Avoid Saying (Part 7)

One word – “inappropriate”

Last week, at the Iowa Employment Conference I heard employment law expert, Michael Reck, point out that the word “inappropriate” has no place in employee handbooks. He went on to say this is because courts have ruled time and again that the word “inappropriate” as a descriptor of behavior, dress, and language is too subjective and too vague to be enforceable.

Well, if that’s true in case law, what might it mean for leaders who understand the value of specificity in feedback and other communication?

It means that “inappropriate” is being used as a substitute for something more specific, something better, and you can take that opportunity to make a more suitable (i.e. specific) substitution.

Leaders use “inappropriate” because it’s safe; it doesn’t force them into getting specific, and it might spare offending someone or making someone feel micromanaged.

Stop taking the easy way out, and use something more specific instead. Here are a few detailed examples to help you practice –


“Those comments were so inappropriate. I don’t want to hear anything like that again. Is that clear?”


“Telling Shawna that her idea ‘sucks’ isn’t the way we communicate around here. Next time, please find better words, and definitely avoid ‘sucks’ in the future. Okay?”


“Please don’t meet clients in inappropriate places for presentations.”


“When presenting to clients in off-site locations, consider coffee shops, quiet restaurants, and other places without loud behavior or excessive drinking around you. Nightclubs, sports bars (even Jethro’s), and raves are off-limits for client presentation meetings. If you’re unclear, please ask me. Thanks.”


“Stop with the inappropriate behavior at reception.”


“Nail clipping, painting, and/or filing may be done in the locker room or outside the back door, and never in reception or in anyone’s office.”

Using the word “inappropriate” as a catch-all is too vague. Define what you really mean in order to connect with folks, get what you need, and increase engagement.

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