4 Ways to Talk to Employees So They Listen

No one likes to be lectured at the workplace. As a leader, here is how to communicate your needs to employees and get your agenda met.

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By Jim McCann

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No one likes to be lectured in the workplace.

As a leader, you need to communicate with your employees to deliver strategic direction, reinforce corporate culture and rally the troops to achieve company goals and objectives. To be effective, you need to deliver these messages in a way that creates energy and enthusiasm, rather than deflating your team.

Here are four tips for talking to employees in a way that energizes them rather than depleting them:

1. Use humor. No matter how big or small your operation may be, there is often tension and emotional distance between the boss and employees. To diffuse that, I regularly use humor, a tactic that makes me more approachable. In my experience, the best kind is self-deprecating humor. When I showed up to meet new employees for the first time at a Midwest location, I started the conversations by poking fun at my pronounced "New Yawk" accent. It got a laugh and made me seem more accessible.

Related: Richard Branson on Why Leading Means Listening

2. Ask open-ended questions. And then be quiet. My favorite question to ask is "Tell me about [insert topic here]." When you ask a new employee about his ideas or a technologist about a new device, you are asking them to do more than give you a pat sentence or two in response. You have the opportunity to access that person's deep knowledge and passion. Ask a question that opens the conversation wide and then hold still and listen.

3. Bring others into the conversation. A boss-employee conversation may seem casual to the boss but can feel like an interrogation to the employee. To diffuse this situation, I like to bring others into the conversation to even out the experience. I may turn a one-on-one discussion into a larger conversation by inviting people to join us and share their thoughts and experiences. It benefits me, because I get to hear more voices, and it helps put everyone else at ease.

Related: 5 Ways to Be a Better Listener

4. Let the little stuff slide. If you are the kind of hands-on person who helped build the business from the ground up, you probably have insight or advice on everything from the capital budget to color of the carpet. But you don't have to communicate every thought to the staff. If it's not an important critique, let it go. I visited a flower shop in my company once and noticed the manager was not lining the trashcans with plastic bags. I know from experience that liners make the job easier, but I also know that I don't need to communicate every idea that comes into my head. It just creates a climate of nitpicking.

Conversations that take place up and down the food chain – between supervisor and staff, people of different departments and the boss and the new employee – are often the source of great new ideas.

As the boss, it's your job to get those conversations started and keep them going. You have a chance to make that happen (or achieve the opposite) every time you open your mouth.

Related: 3 Situations When You Should Shut Your Mouth

Jim McCann
Jim McCann is the founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com and author of the new book TALK IS (NOT!) CHEAP: The Art of Conversation Leadership (New Harvest; January 2014).

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