In the past, managers tried to get their teams to listen by micromanaging, providing constant reminders, and having frequent check-ins. All of these nit-picky activities cost time and energy for everyone involved.
In these scenarios, leaders stress out because they perceive their teams’ lack of performance as a lack of listening, both to leadership and to each other. However, what happens, in reality, is that the culture of “do what I say” creates employees that are trained to not speak openly about problems and solutions with the team when the boss doesn’t allow it. It’s not that they can’t think on their own; they choose not to for fear of rejection or repercussions.
How can you tell if you are building this type of repressive team culture?
Ask yourself, how often do your people challenge your ideas? Do they ever question you face-to-face?
If the answer is minimally or never, you are building a culture that stymies listening and communication, and subsequently, leads to loss of innovative thinking on your team.
If this sounds like your team, fear not! You are not stuck in this position forever! You can start making progress today on improving your team’s cohesion, listening skills, and innovation.
Humans are social animals by nature. That makes us perceptive, and we react to what we are sensing from the people we are around, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it.
We can learn from other highly social animals as well. For example, a few weeks ago my dog Sunni was recently attacked by another dog.
After getting attacked, my fiancé, understandably, was nervous taking Sunni to the dog park. While my fiancé wanted Sunni to play and exercise at the park, Sunni seemed too anxious and refused to get more than a few feet away from her. Sunni could sense her nerves and blatantly disobeyed her requests for Sunni to go and play. Even though Sunni could probably tell my fiancé was saying to go play, she picked up on her owner’s anxiety and chose to ignore the commands and stay close.
The point is that just like Sunni picks up on her owner’s feelings and responds accordingly, your people will pick up on your feelings and respond to those, even if what you are saying is different.
Unfortunately, you can’t just order your people to “come up with innovative ideas” or ask them to start questioning your decisions. Feelings and body language are much more powerful than words. If your people don’t sense you are being authentic when you ask to have a more open, inclusive, innovative, and attentive culture, the message will fall on deaf ears.
Your people can tell when you are stressed out, and your stress doesn’t make them work any faster or better. In fact, it is likely to make them worse because, as a leader, your stress is shared with the team. Your people may not respond or act the way you want them to because their fear of stressing you out even more, all of which creates a feedback loop chock full of stressed-out bosses, unproductive employees, communication barriers…which unsurprisingly makes you more stressed.
Share with them what is on your mind and what concerns you may have. Nine times out of ten, fear of the unknown outweighs the fear of the known. When you keep it to yourself, and your people sense you are stressed, they will come up with their own thoughts on what might be stressing you out, which is its own novel source of stress.
When you make your concerns and stressors known, you invite others to empathize with you and help you rally around the problem at hand.
If you are vulnerable with your people, they are much more likely to reciprocate and be open with you. Your understanding of their challenges will help you build empathy for their work.
Eventually, your people will build a greater understanding of why you are saying what you are saying and more willing to ask you questions if they are confused. Empathetic, effective communication is the key to building a strong team, and vulnerability will help you build trust and listening skills all across your team.