The summer always seems like a time in which the world just gets louder. There’s more noise outside as people enjoy the longer days and more noise at work as warmer temperatures lead to more amplified interactions. But for all the noise that may be dominating the season, it may all be surface chatter that is impeding actual conversations from being both spoken and heard.
Good leaders, however, seem to be taking note of this problem and are rising up to address the challenges. As a leader, the goal is to make sure that you’re not only acknowledging the noise but also making your way through it and getting to the heart of important conversations.
Your employees want to be heard, especially when starting the conversation may seem like the hardest act on their end.
Here are 7 tips that will help you break through the noise and make your employees feel listened to.
1.) Tailor Meeting Styles
Where open forum meetings miss is when they enable the most vocal participants to take centre stage, leaving the quieter and/or more introverted employees in their dust. Instead of expecting your everyday meeting style to pull the words out of those who traditionally would not speak, turn to innovation instead.
Brainstorm whether an entirely new meeting style could be implemented or, if you have the bandwidth, whether you’re able to offer different forms of individual follow through. Extending the offer of 10- to 15-minute individual meetings following a larger brainstorm may seem redundant or miniscule in its impact for you, but it could be the missing piece to have some employees feel seen, heard and valued.
2.) Respond to Unspoken Communications
It is natural for some team members to repress their feelings in order to carry on working hard and not cause disruption. However, this might be the same employee who one day, seemingly out of the blue, turns in his or her resignation.
Your goal as a leader should be to pick up on social cues as much as you do on verbal ones. Every so often give yourself a window of time to assess the office culture with fresh eyes – does a typically extroverted employee suddenly seem extraordinarily reserved? Is talk of politics or breaking news incessantly being spoken about to the point of distraction? Is a key player being overlooked when they do something well but chastised when they make a small misstep?
Taking the temperature of where your employees stand within their own day-to-day environment could be the difference between low retention and employee loyalty.
3.) Respond to Expressed Concerns
Second only to actually listening is making sure that there is follow through in a conversation. If team members who may be more apt to speak up with their concerns, do so and then do not see you act to address them, they may end up feeling worse than if they hadn’t expressed them at all.
Making sure that your employees feel listened to in this scenario constitutes following through with a specific action. In a smaller, but as significant context, if an employee is open to you about their concerns and is mostly solely looking for your understanding and attention, make sure that you’re completely focused throughout. Avoid checking your mobile or cutting their conversation short, when possible. Your employee will thank you for the tangible investment you made in them in that moment.
4.) Interview Internally
If companies find themselves continually looking externally for that next big candidate that will help propel them to the next level, they may want to take a step inside and reconsider their impulses. Internal candidates often can provide the advancement solution needed, and in addition, build company morale.
You want to make sure that your employees understand that you’re a team player as much as they are. While in some instances bringing in talent from outside is necessary and welcomed by all, there are other instances when not hiring from within could be deemed as dismissing the work your employees and internal leaders have been investing into the company. Take each moment on a case-by-case basis, always checking in with how your employees may react to the hire.
5.) Handle the Problem, Personally
If an employee confides directly with the boss to handle something sensitive, but the manager then hands off the issue to an assistant or someone else to resolve, the employee may ultimately feel betrayed, upset and/or disrespected.
If it’s made personal from the beginning, make sure to keep it as such. Your employee will thank you for not betraying their trust and will have tangible proof of how invested you are on a personal level with each one of your employees. While the instance itself may be on the more confidential side, how you react to it will surely be shared among other employees and show your good will. (Ultimately this ripple effect could help minimise other employees feeling unheard.)
6.) Talk the Cultural Language
A good leader takes time to immerse themselves in the culture of their organisation and will in turn, communicate in the same manner that their staff are communicating. In some cases, this means joining in on already existing conversations instead of trying to create new ones that can make you seem out of touch with your employees’ lives.
For instance, err on the side of talking about the latest summer blockbuster instead of the weekend polo match if you’ve never once heard any of your employees discuss polo. The tiny switch in communication won’t seem awkward or demeaning if you’re following through on active listening before speaking.
7.) Be Sincerely Sorry
From time to time, a leader will be in a position of apologising to an employee. First and foremost, it is important to use the words, “I’m sorry” or “I apologise”. Secondly, displaying regret through follow-up actions is important. Take a moment (and a breath) any time you feel the need to interject that any given situation maybe wasn’t solely your fault. You want to make sure that the apology is sincere and not a hodgepodge of excuses or a diatribe at every other person whose fault it could have been.
As a leader, your goal should be to make sure that those who you have the honour to lead feel like you take your responsibility seriously and that your relationship with them is not just a means to an end. Employees who feel appreciated and heard will be more likely to invest their time and ideas into building the company that you both want, so it’s a win-win for all. Take some time this season to actively listen and map out the many ways you can help your employees feel heard.
Employee engagement activities are a great way to facilitate communication at every level – including boosting effective dialog between leadership and team members. Our Employee Engagement Toolkit gives you step-by-step instructions for getting team building right the first time.