Management Success Tip #185: The Non-Rocket Science Art of Listening

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You know how irritating it is when someone you’re talking to, usually a close friend or family member, is texting while you’re trying to get across something really important to you? Or maybe they’re not looking at you, but at something else? Or when they give you that blank stare as in “Whatever you’re saying it’s just so much blabla”?

Now with that close friend or family member, you have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” But when you are texting, looking at something or someone other than the person in front of you, or thinking about something totally unrelated which causes that blank stare, while your employee is trying to get across something really important to them—that employee does not have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” All your employee can do is stand there, feeling disrespected, dismissed and in general, devalued.

Not a great way to manage your peeps! Back in 1957, Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens wrote in a 1957 HBR article (yes, Harvard Business Review existed even waaaay back then); “It can be stated, with practically no qualification, that people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.” Nichols and Stevens studied thousands of students and hundreds of business people, and what they found was that most retained only 50% of what they had heard—immediately after they’d heard it! And only 25% some six months later.

What does listening involve? Basically, your attention. Your 100% attention on what the person is saying to you, on looking at them, preferably engaging good eye contact, and acknowledging that you are listening by either nodding your head from time to time or saying something like “Uh-huh.”

Not rocket science. But it does mean you can’t be formulating your response while they are talking, nor can you text, daydream, tune out or otherwise withdraw your attention from the individual in front of you.

Accord your employees the basic respect of really listening to them, and they will respect you in turn.

Management Success Tip #184: How to Communicate Criticism So It Gets Heard!

ID-100259386

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It would be a lovely world if employees did everything they were supposed to do, exactly the way you wanted it and in the time frame you desired. Your managerial tasks would be reduced to making glowing reports to the higher-ups, and handing out congratulations.

Unfortunately, there are times—probably more than you’d like—where you must set employees straight, get them back on track (or sometimes on the track in the first place), and point out the flaws, problems and failures in their work. The easiest option is to say your criticism like it is, and have done with it.

However, as Sheila Heen, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback” so accurately states, showing people how they stack up is the “emotionally loudest” type of feedback. No matter how softly spoken, gently worded, or accurate your criticism is, it tends to overpower any appreciation or coaching, especially among younger workers.

This is no doubt one of the reasons for the success of Dr. Gottman’s famous “5:1” ratio in relationships: it takes five positive comments to balance out one negative comment.

Two helpful guidelines:

  1. Yes, follow Dr. Gottman’s ratio and do your best to offer five positive comments to counteract your one negative comment. Not necessarily in the same conversation, that would be beyond phony, but as a general rule of good communication. Be deliberate in finding positive things to say about your employee’s work, since the negative things are all to easy to come up with.
  2. Be specific with your criticism. “Your work is sloppy” is useless. It is hurtful and doesn’t give your employee any direction. To a legal assistant, for example, “Your work is sloppy” is better relayed as follows: “Please be sure to include legal references in footnotes at the end of every page. Please check your punctuation and spelling before handing over a brief for my review.”

Positivity works best when mixed with a small dose of judicious criticism.

New Flextime Pilot Program at MIT Holds Clues on How to Keep Older Workers Happy, Productive and Working Longer

Results of a flextime pilot program at MIT holds clues on how to keep older workers happy, productive and on the job longer–at a time when many are predicting labor shortages.

Employers should take note. This is a worker population whose needs have to be addressed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33 million Americans who were 55 or above were in the workforce in 2015. Another 1.3 million were seeking employment. By 2022, older workers will outnumber younger workers.

One way employers can make it easier for older workers to stay on the job is by offering flextime. The MIT flextime pilot program encouraged employees to work remotely at least two or three times per week with Wednesdays being the only day of the week to work in the office. Staffers were told not to feel compelled to follow a 9-to-5 schedule but be mindful of others’ working hours. They were encouraged to “unplug” so they weren’t connected to work 24/7. After six months, 100 percent of the participants said they would recommend the program to others. Workers said they felt less stressed and overall morale was up.

What does that mean for older workers? When we start to see more flextime in the workplace, we’ll also start to see a reduction in absenteeism and an increase in productivity—from all age groups. Older workers today are healthier and more active than the generations before. They have non-job interests and they want time for those too. Just like their younger counterparts, older workers need the freedom to get things done outside of work. For example, they often have older parents that need their care. Flextime gives them the time to be there for their parents, which means they can be more productive and focused at work.

As employers realize the value of older workers (who often bring with them an abundance of skills, experience and education) and as the unemployment rate remains low. flextime, especially for companies that cannot afford other incentives (i.e., pay raises), may be the answer to enticing these workers to remain on the job.

Management Success Tip #183: Wanna Be a Truly Awesome, Stellar, Super-Star of a Manager? Loooove Your Work!

#183 Sira Anamwong

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You know what makes a great manager? A truly awesome, stellar, super-star of a manager? One who looooves his/her work. A manager who is eager to get to work, dives into projects with gusto, and who is inspired by deadlines and quotas rather than defeated or demoralized by them. One who looooves his/her employees, clients, customers. Who knows them inside and out, knows what resonates with them and does his/her very best for and by them, every day.

I fly a lot for work, and thus have been subjected to umpteen routine flight attendant announcements before takeoff: you know, all the safety instructions about seat belts and oxygen masks and the rest. Sometimes a flight attendant will smile during the announcement, and that certainly helps, but most of the time you can tell the attendant is bored, just dishing out a script, with little if any interest in how it is being received, other than clarity of information.

But sometimes, you get a flight attendant, who really knows his/her “clients,” who understands the inconveniences of economy travel, and who must have a supervisor who supports and motivates his/her employees to loooove their job. This is a quick youtube example of just such a flight attendant.

The more you loooove your work, the more you make it easy for your employees to loooove their jobs, the more successful you—and your company—will be.

Look how it’s worked for Southwest airlines! They have been the most successful domestic airline for years, turning a profit when other airlines were going down the tubes. They really are all about the “LUV.”

Not a bad example to follow!

Management Success Tip #181: Give First What You Want to Get from Your Employees

#181 kibsri

Image courtesy of kibsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recently, The Conference Board came up with a practical, down to earth, and—more importantly—useful definition of “employee engagement.” Because frankly, half the time, when you ask managers how they define “employee engagement,” all you get is a blank stare and a “Uh, well, it’s when employees are engaged” type response, which means virtually nothing.

Here’s the definition: “A heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

Now to the practical part. The Conference Board’s first “key driver” of employee engagement is “Trust and integrity: how well managers communicate and ‘walk the talk.’

Ah yes, there it is. Where the rubber meets the road. How well do you walk your talk? For example, if you want employees to work well together, to collaborate seamlessly on projects—do you listen to employees when they communicate to you? Or is your mind on 100 other things, so you’re following their thoughts with but a fraction of your attention? Are you appreciative of their opinions, ideas and innovations? Or do you dismiss employee ideas as ‘not good enough’ or ‘yeah, yeah, heard that already’ without even giving them credit for the desire to improve things?

You can’t get what you aren’t willing to give. It’s just as true in the workplace as it is in your other relationships. Be willing to give to your employees in spades what you want them to contribute to your company’s success.

Management Success Tip #180: What To Do When Your Boss’ Tirade Has Frozen Your Mental Assets

Image courtesy of emily9 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your department didn’t achieve this quarter’s quota, despite your best efforts and those of your team. Your boss thundered into your office, slammed the door, and proceeded to chew you out in loud unmistakable terms. You knew the entire department could hear him clearly through the thin walls, and tempted as you were to mumble “Could you please keep your voice down?” you were pretty sure your request would have the opposite effect.

As your boss charges back out of your office, you sit there, humiliated, embarrassed and utterly beside yourself. You have to come up with a plan, with some way to rally your by now distressed employees, but your brains have disappeared to some faaaar corner of your head, no thinking possible given your level of stress.

For there it is. You cannot function when stress has frozen your mental assets.

Here’s a way out.

The acronym RAIN, a technique originally developed by Michele McDonald, is a simple yet very effective way to handle stress. It helps you shift your perspective of whatever happened so that you can unfreeze your terrified mind and meet the current challenge.

  1. Recognition: Consciously pay attention to what is happening in your body, and what you feel like. For example, “My heart’s beating really fast and my stomach is in knots. I feel like an idiot.”
  2. Acceptance: Acknowledge that you are stressed. Don’t fight it. The quickest way to get your body and mind to relax past your stress, is to accept it as your current reality. It’s uncomfortable, possibly frightening, but it’s the body’s natural reaction to a threat, and not the end of the world.
  3. Investigation: Sort out what thoughts and emotions are present. What stories you are telling yourself about what just happened? Or the possible consequences? For example, “I’m humiliated. The whole department heard me get an earful. Everyone’s gonna think I’m stupid. A failure.”
  4. Non-identification: Now, the last and critically important step, is to realize that although you are having thoughts of being stupid, of being a failure, the thought does not equal the thing. “Right now I feel like I’m a failure” is very different from “I am a failure.” Separate the thought from the thing, and it becomes much more manageable.

Ah . . . much better now!

Management Success Tip #179: Let the Three Good Things Game Lift Your Work-Mood

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When things are going well, and your employees are all exceeding your expectations (except for Sam, but then, hey, “into every life” and all that), you’re in a great mood, flying high, life is good.

When things aren’t, you grind your teeth, your stomach is a mess, you can’t sleep the night through if you can even get to sleep in the first place, and you wonder why oh why did you ever accept that promotion to the supposedly magical land of manager-hood?

Time to play the “Three Good Things” game!

Research by Joyce E. Bono and Theresa M. Glomb shows that when people at work were asked to find three good things from their day and then write about them for about ten minutes that night, their stress was reduced, they had fewer mental and physical complaints, and they felt more positive about their work.

I don’t care how crappy a day it was, you can always find three things to be grateful for. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re still breathing. Hey, that’s a plus! Maybe it’s that most of your employees were where they were supposed to be, and on time, even if what they were doing wasn’t up to par. They showed up! That’s step one. Maybe it’s that you figured out what the problem was that was slowing up production. That’s going to be even more important in the weeks to come.

Not bad, altogether. And with the simple expedience of finding three positive things in your day, no matter how seemingly small, and why they mattered, your stress level diminished. Which means more room was freed up in your brain for creative thinking. Which means tomorrow is likely to be a more productive day.

Three things! When you’ve mastered three, go for four or five or ten. Your stress level will diminish accordingly, and your happiness factor most definitely increase.