Maybe you have a new employee who’s a little shy, and he or she seems unlikely to speak up in meetings, say no to an overloaded schedule, or push back against a bad idea. Maybe you have a whole team of employees who are feeling resentful but they won’t speak up and share their feelings honestly. Or maybe you have some team members who need help with a project or an issue and they don’t feel free to simply ask.
In all three cases, you’re dealing with a version of the same problem: employees who feel locked in a shell and unable or unwilling to express themselves. As a result, you’re also dealing with unaddressed workplace problems, unanswered questions, and employees who can’t get what they need because they won’t share their feelings and won’t ask for support. How can you crack those shells so everyone can move forward? Here are a few tips that can help.
Check your own mannerisms and behavior.
As a manager, do you ever express impatience or a dismissive attitude when employees say something that makes them vulnerable? Do you see weakness or incompetence in every employee who struggles with an issue or asks a question? Do you lose your temper or pout when you’re criticized? If you can say yes to any of these, ever (don’t write off an episode because it only happened once in the past), then the problem lies with you. Before you start trying to manipulate or coerce employees into sharing and speaking, change the qualities in yourself that make them hesitate.
Be warm and direct.
If you wonder why your employee isn’t asking you for something, try a novel move: just ask her. Be the first to break the ice. Don’t just act first when it comes to asking questions; you can also be proactive when it comes to sharing. Want to understand someone’s feelings or learn more about their inner lives? Share your own first. Increase your own level of disclosure and honesty and see what happens. Be generous with your thoughts, experiences, intentions, insecurities, and inner conflicts, and others will often follow your lead.
Respect sharing limits.
You’d like to get to know your new employee and you’d like to find how she really feels about her new job and workplace. So once you manage to get the ball rolling, respect her right to set limits. If she says she struggles with X but enjoys Y, take her at her word. Work on fixing X, and don’t ask any more questions about Y. If she’s not telling you the whole story, she will when she’s ready.
For more on how to encourage a culture of honesty and open communication in your workplace, reach out to the staffing pros at PSU.