VOL. 125 | NO. 174 | Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Do You Hear What I Hear?
In mythology, Narcissus was a hunter renowned for his beauty but, unfortunately, doomed because of his extreme pride. He was punished by being consigned to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool, and he wasted away and died because he simply couldn’t leave the beauty of his own reflection.
You’ve probably come across a type of narcissist, someone who is so self-absorbed he or she can talk ad nauseum about themselves and never, ever ask you a question about how you’re doing. I’ll bet right now you’re thinking of that person’s name.
Well-intentioned management can be narcissistic too. In the interest of communicating with employees – a good thing in itself – they talk about all the things they want to share. The stock price went up or down and why it happened, the outlook for the next quarter, the upcoming corporate headquarters move, the impending employee picnic. It’s all valid, and enlightened management will definitely communicate honestly about all of those things and more.
Here’s the catch: It’s just as important to listen as it is to talk. You want your team to be informed, engaged, motivated. To accomplish that, you must hear what’s on their minds. How do they feel about upcoming events? What are the rumors they’ve heard? What makes them nervous? What do they feel good about? To have a true relationship with employees you must listen and be sure you understand how they are feeling about things. You may be surprised that what you said isn’t what they heard, or, perhaps, that what you said wasn’t what they wanted to know.
Here’s an example of what management wants to tell versus what employees want to hear. A department of a large institution was moving away from its Downtown headquarters to an East Memphis office space. What management shared: the address of the new location, the timing of the move and why it was happening. What employees wanted to know: how they were going to deal with their children’s daycare situation, if anyone was being laid off, the best route to get to work and how much earlier (or later) they would have to leave. Unanswered questions created uncertainty and a lack of support for the move.
As far as I know, mind-reading is not a skill you can learn in grad school. And it’s very difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose lifestyle differs greatly from yours. The only way to truly relate to others is to listen as much or more than you talk. When you do that, you will build trust with employees, gain their support and create mutual ownership of goals.
Got a great story to tell about your employees? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Drake is the author of “Light Their Fire, Using Internal Marketing to Ignite Employee Performance and WOW Your Customers.”