If you’re not going to be present and in an authentic manner, then my advice is don’t turn up.
Have you ever noticed how your staff seem to need far less of your time, they seem to be operating more autonomously? Cause for celebration – (high five you), or cause for concern – (whoops)? It may be a really good sign, but it also may just be that they get very little from spending time with you, so they no longer bother to pursue it. They are no longer satisfied with your disinterest, as generous as it is.
If there is one gift you can give as a leader or as a manager, it is to be ‘present’ when you speak with someone.
In this day of ultra-high speed technology and ultra-short attention spans, we are all so busy and looking for our next information hit, we don’t even have time for our kids, let alone a staff member who you can forget when you go home at night. How about this:
I was at the park throwing the ball for my dog the other day and I was watching a father with his kids in the play area, pushing them on the swings. In his right hand he had his mobile with the thumb swiping away at the screen, he was pushing the swings mechanically with his left hand. I was amazed he was able to stare at the phone whilst pushing the swing with his left hand and just occasionally uttering a few words to the kids. Sad as it is, I am sure they were as disconnected from him as he was from them. What lesson is being imparted there? Was kind of hoping for one of those epic fail moments when the swing would come back in the middle of some fascinating Facebook post or email and knock him clean off his feet. Don’t tell me he goes to work and engages mindfully with his staff.
If communication is a tick box exercise for you, then you’re wasting yours and their time. Good communication is one of the cornerstones of employee engagement.
So what do you need to do? First things first, have a good hard chat to yourself. Ask yourself why you are going to have the conversation, what the desired outcome is and whether you will really be present. If not, start over – reschedule, rethink. This is all part of being self-aware. If you’re self-aware, you’ll be comfortable being honest with yourself. Only when you are truly self-aware can you genuinely grow professionally and personally. You can’t change something unless you genuinely know what your changing.
If you’re going to be there, then be there – not somewhere else. Here are my tips.
Focus on the other person. These simple tips will make it difficult not to:
- Eliminate distractions. Don’t be distracted by a phone or your computer screen if you are at your desk.
- Turn and face the person, or if it’s a difficult or emotional discussion, you may wish to sit next to them.
- Paraphrase, even when you do understand, paraphrase to show you are listening, “so what your saying is…. if I understand you correctly, your saying…. etc.”
- Ask questions and listen to the answers. If you never ask a question, chances are you’re not really listening. Be inquisitive.
- Remember, sadly it’s not all about you. So don’t bring everything back to you. Use parallels if valuable to show empathy- but caution – don’t fall into the easy routine of focusing on your stories, and how challenging it’s been for you, or how you managed to deliver the best result. That can be really disengaging for the other person and disingenuous.
- Be mindful of the other person’s body language. What is it telling you? Are they happy, sad, nervous? What are you doing to make them feel comfortable?
- And finally, this issue applies to both organised and walk up conversations, so don’t discount the importance of your behaviour when having a quick chat.
Remember, you have to be a darn good actor to pretend you’re genuinely interested, so best not try it in the first place. More often than not, it is very transparent.