You know those nagging little thoughts or feelings you have sometimes? Let’s say one of your direct reports says something to you, but the vibe of the exchange makes you wonder if there really is something else going on.
This can be frustrating to say the least. At its worst it can be a sign of a dynamic that is potentially destructive to the goals of the organization you serve, the working relationships you have with those you lead, and your success.
Here are some flags to look for, what they could mean, and how to begin to remedy the situation.
1 – The people around you are answering your questions with vague, non-committal language.
Are they just telling you what you want to hear? Are they afraid you are going kill the messenger or overreact? Or is it because they don’t care and don’t want the hassle of giving the “wrong” answer.
Either way, you have work to do. You can tell people that you want to them to speak freely, but you have to prove it. Create opportunities for them to feel safe in being up-front with you. Don’t start with the most “loaded” topic.
1a – You haven’t heard any bad news lately.
This is a subtle version of flag #1. It could be that the engine of your organization is running on all cylinders. On the other hand, are they buffering you from challenges you really should know about?
I’m not suggesting looking for trouble, but if things seem to be going a little too well, check your own behavior (see point 1). It’s also helpful to ask a truly trusted peer or confidante to weigh in and help you strategize.
2 – It seems your direct reports come to you having scripted the discussion.
One obvious giveaway – the person in front of you is working from notes. Less obvious – they seem stilted in their delivery. This may mean:
- They’re merely nervous.
- They have no idea what to expect from you.
- They know exactly what to expect from you.
Whatever the case is, when you see this, one option is to let it ride. While the two of you are talking, monitor the effect of your behavior and words. When their nervousness has passed, ask if there is anything you can do to make this type of conversation easier next time.
3 – You’re the only one talking in staff meetings.
You’ve had the boss who likes to hear herself talk. Or the one who isn’t responsive when their staff members do speak. Or the one who is uncomfortable with silence and doesn’t wait long enough for people to respond. There are a myriad of explanations.
If you sincerely want more interaction, design it in. Don’t overwhelm them with your newfound commitment to interaction, but pick at least one question or topic that you really want them engaged in and:
- Go around the room for responses. (See bonus tip below.)
- Don’t let people get by with saying, “what she said.”
- Ask follow-up questions to draw them out.
Bonus tip: As a leader of a meeting, if you ask a question and you get no response, ask people to take a minute to think about a response and jot it down. Try this first with a question that requires a little thought.
Does any of this make you uncomfortable? The more comfortable you are with learning about the impact of your interactions and with trying new things, the more comfortable others will be with you. Your leadership interactions will be on the upswing.
What tactics do you use to keep your interactions as a leader open and free-flowing?