How to open the lines of communication with your employees
March 13, 2003
As a consultant for the sheet metal stamping industry, I have had the opportunity to visit numerous stamping plants, die shops, and engineering facilities. One comment I often hear during these adventures is how arrogant or "know-it-all" some of the toolmakers or engineers are.
OK, I admit it—I once was one of those guys. I knew everything there was to know about tool and die, and if you didn't believe it, all you had to do was ask me. Today I'm smart enough to know that I have a lot to learn. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize I have a lot more to learn. Ironic, isn't it?
So what transformed this hardheaded toolmaker into a different person? Very simply, I acquired a basic understanding of human psychology and developed a few rules for getting along with others.
Generally, when you tell a person that he is wrong, you instantaneously arouse in that person a negative feeling. Most people feel threatened and hurt, even though what you are telling them is correct. In fact, when you tell people they are wrong, they feel you are attacking their character.
This psychological negativity often sets the stage for the rest of the conversation. The old adage still rings true: A man convinced against his will is a man of the same opinion still. In most cases the discussion usually goes downhill and ends up in an argument.
It is basic human nature that we as individuals don't like to be wrong. Therefore, the key is to communicate effectively without arousing negativity. One way to do this is to say, "With all due respect to your answer, I disagree." Disagreeing with an individual does not tell that person he is wrong, but rather simply communicates that you have a different opinion or perspective.
One of the deepest desires of the human soul is the need to be fully understood. Most people having a conversation first want to be understood, after which they are willing to listen.
Unfortunately, if you are the listener in a conversation, chances are you aren't really listening at all, but rather formulating what your response will be. This is called the "collective dialogue" or the "dialogue of the deaf."
To communicate in the most effective manner, you first must learn to understand. After fully understanding, then you can seek to be understood. The only way to understand is to listen, not with just your ears, but with your eyes and your heart. This type of empathic listening is a lot of work. When you allow someone to express himself fully before you speak and combine it with empathic listening, you are saying in a sense, "I care about you enough to try to put myself in your shoes."
Next time you have to discuss something, try these four steps:
Some CEOs and managers think that they can recognize employee performance by waiting until the quarterly meeting and telling the whole group what a fine job they all have done, and furthermore blah blahblah. Employees often perceive this as blowing smoke. Don't get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with group recognition, but it does not have the horsepower of personal thanks.
Some CEOs think they are offering personal thanks by rewarding employees with monetary or physical awards. However, such awards promote productivity only for a short period of time.
Nothing beats individual, personal recognition. This is called "psychological income," and it is one of the basic principles of leadership.
Nothing beats individual, personal recognition. This is called "psychological income," and it is one of the basic principles of leadership. True leaders have personal relationships with all employees. They know their needs, wants, hot buttons, and motivators. And they know that nothing carries more weight than a well-deserved pat on the back.
Believe it or not, a simple smile creates an aura of positive, productive energy. It knocks down barriers, reduces fear and intimidation, and helps create a happy culture.
If you don't want to smile, do it anyway, even if you have to force it. It's a psychological fact that positive feelings result from positive behaviors. If you force a smile, you will be smiling voluntarily in a short period of time.
Most people already know these basic communication principles. Unfortunately, common knowledge is not always common practice. Work at these fundamental principles until they become a natural habit and part of your character.