We all know the importance of recognition and appreciation. In this context, some people say “you’re the best.”
Words matter and these words are troublesome for a few reasons. First and foremost: how is the recipient to respond?
If you say nothing, either you have ignored what was intended as a compliment, or your silence may be seen as “why are you telling me that which is axiomatic?”
If you say “thank you,” are you not effectively saying that you think you are the best? A little hubris? And, by a little, I mean a lot.
If you say “not really,” you may be trying to show appropriate humility. But it invites a dialogue on your “bestness.”
The comment also may come off as insincere. Those who use it rarely say it to only one person. Everyone is the best so no one is.
So scrap the superlative and say what you mean. “Great job” or “You’re a terrific colleague.” That allows the recipient to say “thank you” with humility and move on.
What do you do if someone says “you’re the best” to you? I was at my firm’s holiday party, and I heard a great response by a colleague “I am just doing my best.”
It is important to note that the expression can have not only employee relations but also legal consequences. Consider, in particular, the evaluation process.
A supervisor states that an employee is "the best" on his or her evaluation. Later, the employee is selected for termination in a reduction in force based on the relative performance of employees performing the same job. Can you say pretext?
Even as a “stray remark,” the phrase could have legal implications. If admissible, the superlative could be used to assail the employer's basis for any adverse employment action.
I hope this short blog is helpful. But it is definitely not the best! I’m just doing my best to point out how the words we use may not convey the sincerity that we feel and actually may set us up for legal and relationship problems down the road.
This blog should not be construed as legal advice, as pertaining to specific factual situations or as establishing an attorney-client relationship.