Friday, November 9, 2012

What's with this Shutting Up thing?

We all know people who are so enamored with the sound of their own voices that it’s impossible to get a word in edgewise. That’s bad enough if you’re trying to have an ordinary conversation, and worse if you’re trying to collaborate with someone. But if you’re trying to be an effective, respected manager, you must realize that what you have to say is much less valuable than anything your subordinates might have to say to you.

People, By Their Nature, Don’t Communicate

Even under the best of circumstances, it can be incredibly difficult to get someone to open up and communicate freely. Many people have a natural distrust of their leadership that can only be overcome with many months, if not years, of positive contact. If your subordinates can see that you listen to them, you take their ideas to heart, you actively work to resolve their complaints, and you never simply outright lie to them, they will slowly come to trust your leadership. But this will never happen if you do not give them the opportunity to open their mouths.

Yet, the instinct to try to speak, to answer the question before it is completely asked – or before the real question has actually been asked at all – is as strong as the gravity emanating from a black hole. And so, when we think we’re being helpful, we’re actually quashing the important part: a useful idea, helpful criticism, or any chance we might have of eventually forming a trusted bond with that team member.

What you really need is the ability to hold your tongue. It is vital to let your employee speak until he has said everything he wants to say. When I’m having discussions like this, I will usually do something to actively remind me to shut up – literally bite my tongue, sit on a hand, or clench my teeth together. I want this guy to open up to me and give me all the ideas, comments, or criticisms that he’s got. And he’ll never do it if I start “fixing” his problem before I know what it really is.

Next time you're in a position like this, try it! 

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