I’ve conducted hundreds of staff interviews, ahead of team building or planning sessions, gathering perceptions about what’s going well and what’s not. When employees identify areas related to their managers, I ask if they have directly communicated their point of view. Sometimes they have. But, when it comes to five specific topics, the answer is often “no.” Why? Some staff may fear retaliation, being labeled as whiny, or causing conflict. For others, it is simply uncomfortable. Communication research has uncovered the mum effect, meaning people don’t want to be the bearers of bad news to leaders, thereby affiliating themselves with negativity. And, due to the perceived power differential, it can be awkward to know how to approach someone to whom you report. Here are the five things your staff may be reluctant to communicate.
They want more feedback from you.
Employees want to know what you think of their work. They often crave feedback, both critical and positive, because it lets them know where they stand and how they can develop. Assuming your observation and feedback skills are honed, they value what you have to say. Don’t save it for performance discussions. They want to hear from you whenever they do something well or poorly. They want feedback “in the moment.”
Your meetings aren’t very useful.
When meetings are mostly announcements or briefings, with little meaningful interaction, employees are thinking “put it in an email.” They want to be engaged by making decisions with you, discussing solutions to problems, and owning part of the agenda. They may express their frustration by saying little when you ask for questions and looking uninterested. Avoid talking at them and begin communicating with them. Think dialogue, not monologue.
Someone on the team is not pulling weight.
Not many people want to be tattle tails. When someone is coming back late from lunch, missing deadlines on projects, and delivering poor quality work, the rest of the team most likely compensates. They are waiting for you to notice and relieve the burden. The longer they wait, the more frustrated they become. Pay more attention to who is actually doing the work.
You are micromanaging.
Excessive oversight is irritating, particularly when someone is doing a reasonable job. Staff members tend to harbor resentment when they think you are hovering. They worry that you don’t trust them to do their jobs well. They feel as if they don’t have freedom to explore ways of doing the work that might not be a duplicate of your approach. Make sure you really need to monitor your employees’ work. Let go of the reins.
They really like you.
It’s difficult for employees to figure out how to pay you a complement without appearing to be a brownnoser. Even if your organization employs a 360-degree feedback process for management development, staff may under-communicate your positive attributes. You will best know how they feel by their non-verbal communication ¬– smiles, willingness to accept your direction, “thank you,”s, and eagerness to participate in discussions with you.
Make sure you know what’s on the mind of your staff by seeking out their comments. Ask often. Ask in different ways – in one-on-one informal discussions, performance reviews, meetings, retreats, and via email. Respond with appreciation and action, even if you don’t always like what you hear.. With time, it will become easier for your staff to bring their concerns directly to you, knowing you are truly receptive.