Why won’t your employees tell you what’s really going on?
Why don’t people follow through even though you’ve been crystal clear about expectations?
Do you bend over backwards to solve customer problems and they’re never satisfied?
If you can relate to any of these, you may benefit from increased Openness.
Openness is one of the three core competencies necessary to practice Compassionate Accountability. I’ll tackle the other two (Resourcefulness and Persistence) in future posts.
Openness is a fundamental quality of leadership. Openness has three components, each a strategy that can be learned to improve leadership effectiveness.
Empathy is about understanding something from another person’s perspective. Seth Godin argues that good leadership requires the ability to imagine life through another’s eyes. Humans are hard-wired for empathy. Mirror Neurons are the brain’s way of detecting and replicating another’s behavior so that we can literally experience what another person is experiencing. Empathy is more than a feeling, though. It involves understanding another’s motives, emotions, and even physiological response to a situation. Empathy allows leaders to understand and anticipate how another person is experiencing (or might experience) anything from how an upcoming change initiative will affect them, to how a mentoring intervention will be received. Empathy is the key to answering the “why” behind most behavior. Empathy is how leaders show they care about others.
Tips to Practice Empathy
- Ask questions about how a person is feeling, what’s important to them, and how they are experiencing a situation; e.g. “How are you doing with this transition?” or “I care about how you are feeling today. It’s OK to let me know.”
- Take time to listen, checking your understanding by saying back what you thought you heard until they are satisfied; e.g. “I heard you say you’re anxious about making a mistake on this project and looking silly in front of your peers. Am I getting it?”
- Avoid inserting your interpretations, analysis, or feelings. Empathy is NOT ABOUT YOU.
While empathy helps us understand another’s experience, validation is how we affirm that experience. If you do a good job of empathy, you can learn a lot about a person; their fears and anxieties, underlying motives, dreams and aspirations. This is extremely vulnerable for the other person. Treat what you learn with extreme care. Affirming another person’s experience does not condone a behavior, nor does it mean you agree with them. It serves simply to send the message that their experience is real to them and matters to you.
Tips to practice validation
- Affirm the importance and impact of what the other person has shared; e.g. “I can certainly appreciate how important that is for you.”
- Avoid disagreeing or re-interpreting their experience through your lens; e.g. DO NOT say, “I don’t know why you feel like that. It’s not a big deal.” This is the best way to invite them to shut down.
- Thank them for sharing; e.g. “I so appreciate you sharing this with me. Thank you.”
Disclosure is about sharing personal information with another person for the purpose of honesty, transparency, and rapport. What are your feelings, motives, and dreams? If they are in any way influencing your behavior, it’s best to let others in on the secret. One of the biggest barriers to trust is a leader’s unwillingness to disclose the motives driving their behavior. Here’s what we hear from employees who don’t trust their leaders.
“He tells me one thing, but does another.”
“The council keeps asking us for reports, but never seems to be satisfied. What do they really want from us?”
“He keeps criticizing us for letting him down, but I know there’s more going on. Why won’t he just tell us so we can help?”
Tips to practice disclosure
- It’s OK to share a strong, negative feeling you are having if it’s motivating your behavior. As long as you own it, don’t blame anyone for it, and explain to others why this feeling is driving you to behave in a certain way, you have opened the door for others to help you; e.g. “What I haven’t share with you is that I care deeply about getting a promotion. As a result, I’ve been pushing you all pretty hard lately. That’s on me, not you.”
- Transparency does not mean vulnerability. Most people actually care and want to help. The more relevant information you give them about what you are really trying to accomplish, the more helpful they can be; e.g. “I really want to be done by 5 PM today because I promised by daughter I’d be at her volleyball game. Will you help me accomplish that goal?”
- Focus on your truth, not THE TRUTH. Disclosure is purely about you, not about what you think of others. If you are talking about anyone other than yourself, you are not being open.
What do you have to gain?
Itay Talgam, in his book, The Ignorant Maestro, uses the analogy of a music conductor to show the power of openness. Great conductors may know in advance how they want a piece to be played, but they make room for the creativity and passion of their musicians they stay open. They respect the gap between the baton and instruments, appreciating that having a vision is very different from how to get there. They focus more on listening than on speaking. And they embrace their own ignorance, knowing that others may have better ideas than the conductor can imagine. What do you have to gain from practicing openness?
- A safer environment where people are more likely to tell you what’s really going on?
- Much better information to guide your problem-solving efforts.
- More trust and engagement on your team.
- Greater sense of confidence that you are dealing with the real issues.
- Better follow-through on projects.
- Increased loyalty.
Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2016
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