If ever there was a year to feel tapped out, 2020 is it! As a result of the Coronavirus, many employees have had to deal with changes in how they do their job, as well as shake-ups in their family, with kids staying home and elderly relatives relying on them even more. Add to that, very few employees, if any at all, will have been able to take vacation (because, quite honestly, where were they going to go?) meaning that many employees are hanging by a thread when it comes to engagement and retention.
But rather than chalking up this year as a lost cause, perhaps it would be wiser to see it as an opportunity to have your leadership flex some of those “soft skills” and help drum up engagement among your workforce. Below, we’ve outlined just a few strategies you and your management team can employ in the coming weeks to ensure a renewed and reinvigorated staff once 2021 rolls around.
Open your ears:
When we think about strong communicators, we typically envision an employee that can make the perfect sales pitch or dazzle a room of executives with their perfectly prepared prose. However, good communication is typically grounded in a person’s ability to listen which is particularly important for your middle and upper management. When these folks are able to listen, they can get a first-hand account of issues, understand where grievances are springing from, and even learn potential solutions from the people with boots on the ground. To improve listening skills, teach your managers to truly carve out time for meetings with other staff, meaning that they find a quiet spot, minimize distractions, and give said worker their undivided attention. Further, managers should be told that if they are asked for a meeting on the fly and cannot honor the above rules, it is OK to ask to reschedule to later in the day or the week when they can be prepared to best listen. In addition, managers should avoid interrupting during the conversation and should instead take notes to keep track of important ideas or issues being raised during the conversation. In some cases, just listening is enough to clear the air, but other times they will want to refer back to their notes to clarify important elements of the conversation, particularly if the problem is multi-faceted or complex and is going to require some additional discussions with other executives in order to reach a resolution. It’s also important to use other active listening skills, such as repeating back what you have heard for clarification and be sure that you are giving folks a response as opposed to a reaction when you are able to give an answer.
Communication is key:
The second part of good communication lies in being able to respond appropriately in both your verbal and written interactions. Managers can open up the lines of communication by taking steps to create commonality with their workers to help put folks at ease and pave the way for a more genuine, honest interaction. Next, managers should remember to be courteous with those who work underneath them, including using basic manners, such as please and thank you and making requests, as opposed to barking orders. Similarly, these requests need to be made with tone in mind. Managers should be careful that the way they are saying things matches what they are requesting! That being said, managers need to remember that they are upper-level management and thus must speak from a place of confidence. Waffling on decisions should be discouraged as much as possible and you should train your managers to hold back on an answer until they have all the facts and can make a decision grounded in facts and that accurately reflects the needs of the department and the unit as a whole.
Body language benefits:
The words that you choose and the way that you say them are important, but your stance, gestures and other body language cues are also part of the effective communication package. More specifically, managers need to be mindful that their body language mirrors the words that they are saying and the tone that they are using. Managers can improve their body language by using eye contact to help show engagement in the conversation, as well as to convey sincerity and respect. Further, managers should plan sit down conversations so that they are not directly across from the person they are chatting with and are instead at a slight angle, which tones down some of the confrontational vibes a one-on-one conversation can have and instead feels more casual and comfortable. Managers should also be seated at the same level, which removes any notion of rank or dominance, and about an arms-length away so that the conversation is intimate without being uncomfortable. Finally, managers should be cognizant of their gestures and be sure that they are correctly emphasizing the important parts of the conversation and not causing confusion.
Bad news briefing:
There’s nothing fun about delivering bad news, but it is an inevitable part of being a manager and is something that they should be trained to do. Teach your managers to deliver the bad news promptly as opposed to keeping someone in limbo and to do so honestly; sugar coating the truth may feel better in the moment, but it does a disservice to the issue and to the employee, who will be unable to learn and grow from the problem. In addition, leaders should be careful with assigning blame — provided they are being honest, they should not be attributing the decision to external causes (such as the economy or the current global pandemic) and should instead be honest about what they wish they had done differently to head off the situation. And finally, bad news should be delivered either in person or over the phone. So much context and tone is lost when news is delivered via email or memo, not to mention it feels impersonal and there is less control about when and how the employee will receive the difficult news and manage their reaction.
The art of saying no:
Much like delivering bad news, a big part of being a good manager is being able to reel in your team and say no to ideas or requests that you know will not benefit your department or broader company. Much like getting bad news, being told that your idea isn’t going to go the distance can be tough to hear. However, managers can be trained on the art of saying no. Specifically, they should be taught to issue their decision as soon as possible so that folks don’t spiral while they wait for a decision, explain why they have to turn down the request, and acknowledge that it is frustrating and disappointing to not be able to fulfill the request. A good leader, where appropriate, should work with the employee in question to trouble shoot the issue and offer alternatives or otherwise lend a hand to reach a resolution that both parties feel comfortable with.