03 Aug Earning the right to be heard

By Blake Stevens, Director of People & Culture at The Ōnin Group

As leaders, a huge part of our role is developing people. Building trust in that relationship is tough, yet key to earning the right to be heard.
We all say we want to listen and create a safe place for our employees to say what they mean and to let us know how they feel. After all, people want to perform well and be successful in their jobs and in their lives. Creating an environment where honest conversations take place and trust is founded is a noble goal, but it can also be difficult to accomplish fruitfully.
Before we have such conversations, we must first be prepared to listen. When we are in a conversation with a direct report, or someone that is coming to us with a problem, I often see three distinct responses: we defend our position, we jump in for help, or we send them to someone else to deal with the problem.
Of course, none of these responses is especially helpful. Assuming we know all the solutions or can “embark knowledge” to our people is shortsighted and does not build trust.
Taking an approach of listening to understand the problem can make a tremendous change in the response and innovation of the individual and team. Understanding the reality of the true issue at hand assists in strategic thinking and decision making.
That said, don’t keep your door open for complaints. Rather, you must be a catalyst for accountability. Listening to problems and concerns can be a time suck—especially if the individual does not come with solutions—but giving a productive response sets the tone for the next problem or concern that comes up.
If you are able to listen to understand and ask probing questions to get to the heart of the issue, you can truly help the individual or team problem solve and work through the concern. Then, your role is to follow up for accountability from the last meeting.
Keeping the individual on track with questions or emails asking for progress or engaging him or her with thoughtful questions during a meeting is key to the relationship and key to building trust. These gestures show that you are interested in them and have confidence in them working through the process. It even helps to have more difficult conversations as you go along.
If the initial relationship is built on trust, when a tough conversation needs to happen, employees will see you as a partner in the process and not a boss coming in to question motives or ideas.
You have now earned the right to be heard. Now that you have a firm foundation in the relationship, the development conversation can begin. You also have good content and examples to review and give feedback based on your involvement in the process leading up to the conversation.

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