Leaders: Could You Be Shutting Employees Down?

I am always fascinated by the way we communicate with one another. We have an abundance of words available to us that we could weave into beautiful sentences. Yet we choose to be lazy with our words or not use them at all. Even more fascinating than the words we use might be the way in which we choose to communicate. Obviously, our high tech society has changed our primary mode of conversation, but even when we are given a face to face opportunity we often choose to communicate the way we like to be talked to.

And that could be shutting everyone else down.

I’m a pretty direct person. I say exactly what I think. I don’t beat around the bush and I don’t shy away from confrontation. I don’t mind having the difficult conversations and try to choose my words wisely. Over the years I have learned that this can make people incredibly uncomfortable. People always say they like people who tell it like it is, but I’ve found that often times, they like people to tell it like it is if they agree or they are talking to someone else, but not directly to them.

Early in my career I took the approach that people were just going to have to deal with that. If I had to deal with their passive aggressiveness or their inability to say what was on their mind then they would have to deal with my more direct approach.

I’m not proud of that personality trait, but at least I’m honest about it.

As I developed in my career and worked with some amazing communicators I learned that I could still be who I was inside but not shut people down in the process. In fact, I learned that no matter how right I was or how right my approach felt, if it shut others down then I lost. It wouldn’t get us anywhere and all it would do was strain the relationship.

I got my first real job at 16. I worked for a large retailer in the women’s department. My boss, while a brilliant merchandiser, was an awful leader. She liked to yell. The minute something did not go exactly the way she wanted her voice raised eight octaves and she could be heard throughout the store. This never happened when customers were around mind you, she was smarter than that. One day a long time employee who was very close to the boss finally told her how ineffective her yelling was. She said, “Leslie, most of the time when you get irritated you have a right to be, but you need to know that the minute you raise your voice we all stop listening. So maybe if you could get your point across without yelling, we would all work harder to fix what’s broken.”

While Leslie didn’t change over night, she was at least more mindful of the yelling and would catch herself doing it and lower her voice. Her team found it much more pleasurable to work with her when we weren’t in fear of a screaming fit every time something didn’t go well.

Whether it be a direct approach, yelling, talking in a condescending manner or never voicing appreciation, there could be things you are doing as a leader that causes employees to shut down and stop listening. If they aren’t listening they aren’t helping you move the business forward.

The easiest way to find out if this is happening is to ask them. Of course you have to be ready for the feedback, but if there truly is something you are doing that is shutting them down, you need to know it. The question, in the most simplest form is this:

“Is there something in my communication style that bothers you? Is there some way that I’m communicating that you would like to be different?”

Then when they answer, don’t deny, don’t defend and don’t put it back on them. Just listen, appreciate that they were willing to be honest and try to adjust.

I have a few people in my life with voices that my mother describes as “a voice that carries”. Basically that means they are loud. Their normal speaking level sounds like they are talking through a microphone. It’s loud. For many this can be so off putting because at times it sounds like they are yelling even though they aren’t. A colleague of mine had one of these voices but she was very aware of it. She had a notebook she carried everywhere and at the top of it was the word “whisper”. It was her reminder to whisper when she talked because her whisper was everyone else’s normal. She explained that she had been given so much feedback over the years that her perceived yelling, even though she wasn’t, really shut people down. Rather than just assume they should get over it, she adjusted and saw her communication with co-workers improve immensely.

Are you doing something that is hindering communication with your employees, co-workers or executive team? If your answer is no, are you sure? Going through the exercise with your valued partners might be worth understanding if there is anything you could be doing that could actually be a hindrance and then work to adjust accordingly.


Originally posted on Acacia HR Solutions blog



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