lend an ear

January 25, 2019

Engaged employees are a vital force in any successful organization today, yet The Gallup Organization has consistently reported that only about one-third of employees in any organization are actively engaged. The problem gets worse during times of change and transformation, that is, most of the time today.

What can managers do to help employees be more engaged? Surprisingly, a lot. Not big, expensive programs that have to be set up and monitored, but simple, behavioral strategies you can do daily with your people. Like listening.

listening is key

Listening is one of those activities that mostly everyone feels they are good at, but few actually do well. Yes, we are constantly hearing things, but listening is a different skill. To truly listen to someone you need to give that person your undivided attention—a rare activity in times of increasing distractions, media, advertising, social media and constant interruptions. Once you do that, use EAR Model to do it right, that is, Explore, Acknowledge and Respond:

  • explore

Ask for permission, that is, seek to understand before you seek to be understood. This will help you better understand what is being discussed before you respond. And if you really understand, it may help you resolve the issue before you say anything at all. For example, instead of saying “Why do you always interrupt me when I am giving the team update?” try: “Help me understand what you want to accomplish with our update and what you think our roles should be?”

  • acknowledge

Sometimes called ‘active listening’, paraphrase or repeat back what you think the other person is saying, including emotions. “You want to make sure that your ideas are heard and you do not want to feel cut out or rushed to get your points across. I can see how that might be frustrating and stressful for you. It would be for me too.”

  • respond

Clarify what you need/want and why, then propose a solution. Use simple, direct terms. “I would really like to share the high-level info (what) first because it will help set the context for you to give the details and manage the Q&A better (why). Let us agree on how much time each of us should take (solution).” (Would it help to practice for the quarterly and annual presentations?)

Then, summarize agreement and show appreciation: “So, you are okay with me taking no more than five minutes to set the context and you will go no longer than fifteen? Then, you take the Q&A? Great. Thanks for taking the time to talk this through with me. I know it will be a great presentation. I appreciate your candor and want you to come to me whenever you might be feeling there is an issue.”

two-way communication is also important

In my research of 52 top employee motivators, the highest-ranking variable that 95 percent of employees reported they want most from their managers is direct, open, and honest communication. Gone are the days where management is solely all about authoritative, one-way communication, ie, telling others what to do. Yes, telling people what to do can make the person who is doing the telling feel important, but at what cost? If the person you are communicating with feels disrespected in the process, how long will they keep working for you?

The Gallup Organization found in their extensive research that the most important variable that accounted for an employee’s level of engagement was an individual’s immediate manager and all aspects that make up that relationship between a manager and his or her employees. This included all the things a manager did—and did not do—in the course of managing the employee. Anyone needs only to reflect on the best managers they have had in their career to quickly identify the actions and behaviors that are essential for any employee to feel supported and engaged.

People want to know the necessary information to do the work they are assigned, what their co-workers are doing, and how the organization is doing as well. To keep your workforce engaged, it is important to communicate information to employees about the organization’s mission and purpose, its products and services, its strategies for success in the marketplace, and even what is going on with the competition.

Communication is critical to making employees feel valued, both by informing them about things going on in the organization as well as getting input from them about how things could be improved. In addition, from my research, 92 percent of employees want to be involved in decision-making where they work—especially regarding decisions that directly affect their job responsibilities.

Most companies have an open-door policy in which any employee can approach their manager to discuss a problem. In theory, this works well; in practice it is another matter. Often, their doors may be open, but their minds are closed.

When discussing major issues, like organizational changes, always host a dialogue rather than a lecture, and encourage questions. Doing so allows employees to know they can influence decisions and be heard, making it easier for them to feel truly engaged.

Fundamental information about the organization’s policies is also important for employees to understand, yet only 68 percent of employees believe their organization’s policies are clearly communicated. Below are ways you can better communicate
with individuals

  • ask employees for their input and ideas
  • engage in periodic one-on-one meetings with each employee
  • ask them what you could do to be a better manager
  • offer personal support and reassurances, especially for your most valued employees
  • provide specific feedback as to what they are doing well
  • provide an open-door accessibility to management

Below are ways to better communicate with groups

  • have a morning huddle in which each member of team reports what they are working on and if they need any help
  • conduct town hall style meetings with members of upper management
  • host CEO-led breakfasts or brown-bag lunches
  • take questions in advance of a meeting or allow them to be written on index cards, anonymously
  • record meetings and distribute the recordings to those who are unable to attend
  • set up a blog site for your CEO to provide feedback around issues of importance

Improving listening and two-way communication also helps to create an inclusive environment. This means drawing out quieter participants and encouraging them to have a voice. It also means being aware of when team members cut off others while another member is trying to make a point so you can establish guidelines for team communication. For example, several studies confirm the significant number of interruptions women face in the workplace from their male colleagues. Establishing a level of respect during team meetings is crucial for not only making female employee voices heard but also for making all employees or team members feel valued. Below are strategies that you can use to minimize interrupters:

  • interrupt the interrupter—try stating, “if you let me finish my thought, I would then love to hear yours” or just “I am not quite done speaking, if you would not mind letting
    me finish.”
  • be an ally to the person interrupted—try stating “I believe _____ was not finished with her/his thought. I am interested in hearing the rest of what he/she has to say.”
  • if this is a consistent interrupter, have a side conversation with the offender.
  • as a manager, set the tone and reiterate that everyone has a lot to offer and that one of our values is to let people finish and listen with the intention of hearing.

in summary

You will never get the best from employees by trying to build a fire under them. You have got to build a fire within them. Most managers focus all their time on doing what is urgent and have no time left to focus on what is important—namely their people.

The art of listening and creating two-way communication are essential elements in successful employee engagement. Do managers take time to get to know employees, allow them to ask questions, ask for their input, listen to their concerns, and thank them for their contributions? If so, employees and teams are much more likely to feel trusted and respected and valued in working for that manager—and the organization.

* https://www.peoplematters.in/article/employee-engagement/role-of-communication-in-employee-engagement-14496?utm_source=peoplematters&utm_medium=interstitial&utm_campaign=learnings-of-the-day