Hear Me Out: How to Really Listen to Your Employees

It can be challenging to keep a consistent pulse and tune into what your employees are thinking (instead of what you think they are thinking.) Getting their feedback is important and responding to their needs, their ideas, and their suggestions goes a long way toward building a positive work environment and positive relationships.

Formal surveys can be a great tool to gauge what your employees thoughts are of the workplace, but instead of waiting for feedback that comes around once a year, how can you create an environment that is built on ongoing, informal, open and honest conversations?

“To be really great at feedback you have to get it, give it, and encourage it,” says Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor. “All of those things feel weird to do at first, but there are some easy things you can do to make them feel much more natural.”

So, how can you take a natural approach to facilitating open two-way conversations? Check out these four ways to foster healthy communication in the workplace:

Ask for candid feedback

While it may seem obvious, one of the best ways to receive honest criticism is to simply ask for it. It may seem daunting to do, and many employees will shy away from sharing their true feelings, but asking for feedback is a great place to start when it comes to creating a safe environment for active communication. Encourage constructive conversations by asking questions like, “How can I support you?” or “What’s one thing I can improve on next quarter?”

By taking the lead and asking for feedback, you will encourage others to start doing the same and asking candid questions about their performance, opening the door for employees to examine their mistakes and leverage opportunities. It’s also important to be conscious of how you respond to this feedback. Which brings us to our next point…

Talk less, listen more

The age-old wisdom still rings true, even in today’s modern workplace. By talking less and listening more, you pay more attention to what is being said and start to actively listen to your employees. What does active listening look like in practice? It means giving the person speaking your undivided attention – making eye contact, closing your laptop screen, turning over your phone screen, and most importantly, listening to understand, not to respond.

Share “the why”

Instantly engage others by sharing “the why” behind “the what” when it comes to initiatives in the workplace. From business goals to updated logos, explain the reasoning behind these critical decisions to keep employees feeling involved in changes, and giving them a solid reason for the hours of dedication a new project requires. By taking note of and/or accepting employee feedback, people are more likely to continue sharing their thoughts. And this transparency isn’t just for large-scale organizational changes.

Even simple visibility can make a world of difference when it comes to two-way communication. For example, provide an agenda 24 hours prior to meetings to give people a chance to process and anticipate what is coming, and be clear with your expectations and how they should prepare. This will lead to more thoughtful and productive conversations.

Encourage off-premise meetings

Whether you have an employee coaching program in place or not, a great way to create a safe environment for honest feedback is to encourage peer-to-peer conversations. And don’t limit these talks to the break room. Encourage team members to grab coffee together, talk story, turn their weekly tag-up into walk, or plan a quarterly off-site to revitalize the team. I regularly ask my team to do a meeting with me on a run or hike Koko Head. Getting out of the office and being active helps take the pressure off and allow for honest feedback and conversation to flow.

Open and active communication must happen across the organization, from top to bottom, and throughout. All employees, leaders, and stakeholders have to understand the importance of creating a safe environment for honest conversations to happen and the best way to leverage the constructive feedback given. Only then will business leaders be able to take full advantage of engaged and transparent communication.


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