I sometimes share jokingly—truth told in jest—that growing up as the bossy big sister, my two younger sisters and my brother all too often reminded me: “You’re not the boss of me!”
Similarly, the goal as adults is to make requests and share concerns in a positive, non-aggressive way that doesn’t evoke the “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” reaction. In other words, how do you communicate with respect?
When I speak at companies where there is low morale and negativity, I sometimes hear from front-line employees that they do not feel heard by their bosses.
Understandably, that causes them to be less likely to reciprocate and listen when their bosses speak to them! Even worse, not being listened to sometimes results in them doing just enough to get by, and not being fully engaged.
Therefore, these speak-and-listen skills are critical for managers in the workplace.
You’re not a manager? You may still find that you need to ask for support, cooperation or information from colleagues—or bosses—and you’re not in charge of these people. (Hmmm…this could work at home too!)
As one of my workshop participants put it, “how do you pull rank when you have no rank to pull?”Here are a few favorite strategies I share in my presentations on how to speak and listen positively whether you’re the boss or not! By the way, these could also work in your on-line communication! (Although, as I shared in a recent blog Ditch the Email, phone or face-to-face conversations are sometimes best!)
Speak so they listen
- Use collaborative phrases such as:
- “Would you consider”
- “What do you think about”
- “How can we make this work”
- Take responsibility instead of blaming
- “I need you to” instead of “you need to”
- “We prefer that you” instead of “you should/you better”
- “I’m concerned about” instead of “you always/never”
- Seek clarification
- “Help me understand”
- “I need you help”
- “I’m wondering”
One of my mentors years ago gave me the best advice ever on listening, especially when someone tells you something you don’t want to hear.
Instead of going into the “what-had-happened-was”, excuse-making mode, ASK FOR MORE!
In other words, invite the person to explain and provide details about their concerns…and listen without getting defensive! That will encourage them to speak with you and share openly in the future.
A few of my favorite ask-for-more phrases in response to negative feedback include:
- Can you give me some examples?
- How do you mean? (My personal favorite!)
- Can you elaborate?
And ask for even more…
- What would you like to see happen?
- How can we resolve this?
- What do you suggest?
The phrases above lose their positive power—for speaking and listening—if you do any of the following nonverbal behaviors:
- Multi-tasking, using your tech device, looking around/away
- “Ugly body” behavior: folded arms, pointing, rolling eyes, scowling
- Shouting, harsh tone, sarcasm
The bottom line for both speaking with respect and listening with respect can best be summed up by the popular quote by leadership guru John Maxwell:
“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!”