First off, why would you want or need someone to open up to you at work? Well think about this: All is well in meetings. As the leader, you'd present and then ask questions only to hear crickets at the end....silence is contentment, right? Or just be a fly on the wall in the hallway after any meeting! Even better, if your company has 360 reviews, you'll get quite the earful at that time. Shouldn't people want to be honest and tell their leader what's on their mind in a professional manner?
We all think that, but that's easier said.
Receiving tough feedback from our employees can be rough - a dagger to our pride. But the way we should be thinking about the feedback, as leaders, is - this is the culture you created. If people are only speaking up in the hallway or when they could do it anonymously in writing, there's a leadership issue.
So let's focus on the changes YOU, the leader, can make to get employees to open up. But first, why would an employee NOT want to open up?
* They're shy
* They don't want to appear dumb or ignorant on a topic
* They want to be seen as trusted and low-maintenance
* They could be analytical and need time to provide an answer (totally me!)
* They could think that their ideas and opinions don't matter, so they don't want to waste others' time
With those in mind, start practicing these to get employees to open up to you:
1. Practice active listening
Haven't we all heard this way too much? Well, it's because active listening is incredibly important - and not just at work.
Tips: Look at the person talking. Computer screen down. Cell phone turned over. Paraphrase their comments back to them to confirm you understand what they said. And NEVER interrupt (we all tend to think about what we want to say next - try not to!).
2. Build trust by NOT judging
This is a big one. When people open up, they will share things that may be negative. Learn to accept their statements and ideas with a simple “thank you” or “thank for sharing”. Or “thank you, I’m going to think about that.” Unless what they shared was going to have an immediate negative impact on the business, don't give an immediate opinion.
Leaders typically do know why certain ideas won’t work because they have access to more information and are more experienced.
Tips: You don’t have to accept every new idea or implement it, but you also don’t have to shoot it down mere seconds after it leaves their mouth.
3. Give advance notice
When you share things ahead of time, this gives employees time to come with questions and process the information, as some process information slower than others. You don't have to communicate formally every time; it can very informal, “Mary, let’s grab a few minutes tomorrow afternoon. I’m thinking about ways to improve communication around here and would like to get your thoughts.”
4. Ask for specifics
Instead of saying “So, how am I doing?” Or even, “Can you give me some feedback on my performance?” -ask for specifics.
Tips: Say, “Thanks for the positive reinforcement, but I can always get better. If you had to pick one thing for me to work on, what you say that should be?”
Easy right?? It takes some time to be consistent in these behaviors and for people to begin to embrace face-to-face honest communication, but ultimately it leads to off-the-chart engagement with your employees.