Gone are the days of vertical management structures and strict oversight. Organizations of all kinds, ranging from classrooms to boardrooms, acknowledge the importance of ensuring that everyone has a voice. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but if it does, it’s time to tune in. The bottom line is that employees are more productive, more autonomous, and more satisfied when provided an empowering workspace.
This is fine and dandy when everyone pulls their own weight. But sustaining an open and encouraging company culture is immeasurably more difficult, however, when employees underperform. You won’t do yourself (or your bottom line) any favors if you intervene in such circumstances with an accusing question like, “why did (or didn’t) you…”. Instead, level up your management skills and try out the following 3 communication strategies:
1. Drop the “why.” When you open with an interrogation that points to a fault in an employee’s performance, you trigger the brain’s threat response system, provoking a fight or flight reaction often expressed in terms of excuses or shifting blame. This is a waste of everyone’s time.
2. It takes incredible strength of character to quiet the brain’s threat response. Avoid the need to go there by learning to ask “how,” instead. When addressing an employee’s underperformance, skip over the “why” and go straight to asking how to move forward. State the concern as a matter of fact and present the opportunity for collaborative problem solving by shifting the tone of the conversation toward productive resolution.
3. Opening an opportunity for problem-solving engenders accountability. Take this one step further by asking “what.” There is no better way to empower your employees than by showing them a little TLC. Ask, “what can we do to better support your success?” Not only is this invaluable information, it also demonstrates that you own your role in fostering a healthy, empowered workplace. If employees see you working to improve your performance, they’ll be driven to do the same.
Employee performance issues are tricky to pin down, and as long as human beings, not robots, are behind the wheel, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Though no silver bullet, learning to communicate in such a way that avoids blame and centers accountability will go far. What’s more, “how” and “what” questions furnish you with information that provides insight into systemic issues that require leadership attention. Tweaking these deeper tensions allows for the cultivation of a company culture that, in and of itself, will enhance employee performance.
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