Engaging conversation with your employees does more than just provide you with something interesting to talk about. Each time you dive into an insightful conversation, you are building rapport, understanding and trust with employees. Your relationship improves, and with it, so does employee collaboration, cooperation, performance, motivation, engagement, morale and more.
Conversation, even seemingly casual conversation, can change your team for the better, but it’s not easy for everyone. And even strong communicators sometimes struggle when it comes to natural conversation. As you interact with employees, encourage them to open up and continue the conversation by following this advice:
Ask, don’t fish
Don’t ask questions that lead people to provide the answer you want to hear. For example, instead of asking a leading, assumptive question like “What do you think about that terrible new software feature?” ask “What do you think about the new software feature?” or “How do you see that new software feature impacting us?”
The second two questions open the door for conversation and understanding. The first question adds very little value and may not open the door to conversation or understanding at all.
Be ready to ask again
Sometimes you receive an answer that doesn’t answer your question. People offer vague or canned language because they don’t want to say what’s truly on their minds.
If you want honest feedback, reframe the question. Use their answer as the start, and then ask a more direct question or for more detail. This is especially helpful if the first answer you received was vague or overly complicated. For example, “So, this software will integrate the two other tools together and save us a bunch of re-work?”
Redirect with questions
We are taught not to interrupt others – from the time we are little to any lesson on listening skills we learn as a professional. While that advice is generally correct, there are times when an interjection can be helpful to the flow of the conversation. Rather than nodding and being quiet, there are times when you can gently and tactfully interrupt with a question. For example, when a person is rambling or to clarify a point. Most people won’t see it as rude because the question allows them to continue to talk.
Remember the 5 Ws and 1 H
Questions that start with who, what, where, when, why and how are great ways to unlock conversation because people can’t answer with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
Just be careful with “why?” If you use it repeatedly, all by itself, you can put people on the defensive. It feels accusatory, rather than exploratory, so it’s best to start with other questions and lead towards “why.” Your intent to explore and understand will be more clear then, and you’ll receive more complete answers.
Ask, then stop speaking
If you are asking questions, you should want to actually hear the answer. Ask, pause, and wait. If no answer comes, rephrase or ask the question again. When you ask and too quickly talk to fill in the silence, you are teaching people that they don’t have to respond, because you don’t want their answer anyway.
Want to boost your communication and other leadership skills? Join us for an upcoming classroom training session where you’ll learn how to:
- Establish your new authority without coming off as “bossy.”
- Inspire and motivate employees who are your former colleagues and friends.
- Give difficult and uncomfortable feedback.
- Understand and manage the new expectations of leading your peers.
- Manage high-risk decisions.
- Navigate company politics and the rumor mill.
- And more!