Manager: Listener-In-Chief

We’ve all worked for those managers who are completely tone deaf.

They have no idea what’s happening with their team members and believe everything is going swimmingly—until (out of nowhere!) things implode. Whether it’s the sudden departure of a key employee, or an intense conflict between staff members, these oblivious managers are caught totally off guard.

As a leader within your company, a large portion of your role requires being “in the know” regarding what’s going on with your team. To achieve this, managers must see themselves as “listener-in-chief”. Here are some simple ways managers can put their ears to the ground and facilitate free flowing conversations with team members.

1. Walk around and talk with staff members face-to-face. If you’re spending the majority of your time behind closed doors or stuck in your office, you’re missing out. People need to see you in their environment, where they’re comfortable and relaxed. Make it easy to have a casual conversation with you—don’t force staff members to schedule formal meetings in your office just to talk.

2. Ask questions. Most people won’t discuss workplace issues, concerns, challenges, goals or ideas with their boss until forced to do so—either because things have hit a fever pitch, or because they’re put on the spot. Open the dialogue by making direct inquiries like:

  • “What’s working well for you?”
  • “Where do you want to go from here?”
  • “What opportunities do you see for us?”
  • “What can I do to help you?”

3. Observe them in action. You can tell a lot about what’s happening for your team simply by watching and listening to them. How do they interact in team meetings? What is the overall vibe in the break room? How do they respond to the wins and losses of their teammates? Remember that you don’t have to get involved—in fact, it’s often best to let them mediate themselves—but if and when action is needed, you need to be aware.

4. Find positive opportunities to meet privately one-on-one with each person on a regular basis. Don’t make one-on-ones a “bad” thing by only doing them to discuss problems or negative issues, and don’t monopolize the conversation. Let your people know you’re just checking in and ask what they’d like to talk about.

While some of these techniques might sound a little “touchy feely” to some managers, there’s nothing that builds a productive team more than an engaged, connected manager who really demonstrates an investment in his or her people. So set aside that hardened, elusive “big boss” image. It’s not working for you or your team.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.