At one time, the measure of a manager was how much authority they wielded. Employees were expected to obey and not ask questions, and the better a manager could enforce obedience, the better leader they were.
That’s no longer the case, though. Today, emotional intelligence is one of the top skills a leader needs to master. Employee engagement is more important than ever, and listening to the employee voice is one of the four pillars of engagement.
How do you listen to employees when times are hard? Here are the tips you need.
Understand the Stressors
Right now, as we’re moving through the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have a lot on their minds. Some of their concerns will be related to work, and some will not. The first step in listening to your employees during this stressful time is to find out what they’re facing. Allow them to share what’s impacting them the most and show empathy for their struggles. For instance, many parents are concerned about schools being closed and children not receiving proper education while they’re at home. You may also have an employee with a health condition that makes them more vulnerable to illness, or they have a compromised loved one who could become ill. There could be concerns about your business, too. Maybe employees are worried about hours being cut, layoffs, or business closure.
When you understand the various stressors your employees are facing, you’ve laid the foundation to be able to listen well when they communicate their concerns.
Use Good Remote Communication
A lot of workplaces have their entire staff working remotely right now. That can be a big change for a company that’s used to doing everything in person. One thing that’s important to recognize is that working remotely requires additional management and communication skills. You’ll want to make sure you focus on desired outcomes while also allowing flexibility when possible.
It’s also important to master using virtual meeting tools and to continue to build positive relationships within your team. It can be especially hard to listen during a virtual meeting due to background noise and video distractions, so don’t be afraid to have one-on-one meetings with those who need more of your attention.
Set Aside Hindrances to Communication
When you’re meeting with employees, it’s easy to be distracted. You can be distracted even when the meeting is in-person by the thoughts and emotions you’re dealing with. You might be impatient with the meeting or feeling resentment. You might have your own fears or be more tired than normal. It’s important to focus on your listening skills and your ability to make your employees feel heard and respected, even when those distractions are present.
If you’re working remotely, things are more difficult. You may have pets or kids vying for your attention, or you might be tempted to look at another screen or a mobile device if you think your employees won’t notice. Because you’re not in person, it’s also hard to read body language, which is a big percentage of communication.
Be sure you set aside any devices and do your best to work in a room without disruption. Tell your family when you’re scheduled to be on a call or in a meeting so they don’t interrupt. Working remotely is challenging and things are unlikely to be perfect. Do your best and it will work out.
Take Care of Your Needs Too
One of the things that makes it really difficult to listen to an employee is when you’re focused on your own issues. If you’re facing financial, health, or personal stress, it will impact your ability to be fully present for your employees.
That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself in addition to your team. You can’t pour out of an empty cup. If your needs aren’t taken care of, there will be nothing left for you to give your staff. Being a great manager involves being your best so you can give your best.
Listening is a Key Leadership Skill
Managers used to believe that listening and empathy made a leader weak, but today we know the opposite is true. Active and mindful listening is a key part of leadership.
Employees want to do better work and are more loyal to someone who truly cares about their needs, especially in stressful times. A manager who lacks empathy can cause employees to disengage, stop putting forth their best effort, and even leave their jobs.
Be mindful about what your employees are going through. Visualize what they’re saying. Ask relevant questions to help build your understanding. When you follow these steps, you’ll be a great listener – and a great leader.
Author Bio: Beau Peters is a creative professional with experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.
Photo Credit: Andrew Martin from Pixabay