Listen more. Talk less.

Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

I was reminded of this quote last week while reading “4 Things Your Employees Are Desperately Trying to Tell You.” This article caught my eye for the same reason Drucker’s quote did when I first read it – because I think THE most valuable skill of leaders is to listen more and to hear what isn’t said out loud.

What do our employees want to say but don’t? Avery Augustine lists 4 things:

  1. “I’m Bored.” Being bored happens. It’s hard to avoid, especially when you feel like you’re doing the same thing every day. People need to be challenged to stay engaged. Listen more and look for signs of boredom (even subtle ones) and find challenges to stretch their skills.
  2. “I Need Your Intervention.” Some situations the boss just needs to handle. Maybe it’s a key customer that just won’t listen. Maybe it’s a miscommunication between coworkers. Whatever the issue, sometimes you just need to step in and take care of it. Your employees want you to. They’re just afraid to ask. They may think it will make them look weak or unable to do their job. Encourage employees to ask for help and don’t be hesitant to help (although ask for permission – you don’t want to make your employee feel undermined). This helps you prevent small problems from turning into big ones that create disengaged employees.
  3. “I’m Being Overworked.” This one is extremely important. If an employee is overworked, it’s probably because they’re extremely capable. They do good work. You trust them so you default to them when you need something done. But you probably assume they will tell you if they have a problem. Sometimes they will. A lot of times they won’t. You have to listen more and take notice of the little things – a comment here or a deep breath there. At the very least, check in every now and then and make sure the workload is OK.
  4. “I Need Some Coaching.” Rarely will employees tell you straight up that they need your help. They don’t want you to think they are incapable. But sometimes they do need guidance and you need to look for the tell-tale signs. Notice any hesitation when you assign a project. What are they doing with their eyes? Does it look like they’re in deep thought trying to wrap their mind around what you just asked them to do?

As leaders we must learn to listen more and notice things that are unspoken. Our employees aren’t going to tell us everything we wish they would. Acknowledge that we may be a part of the problem. What kind of vibes are you giving off? Do your folks feel welcome or do they feel like an interruption?

At Approachable Leadership, we call this hesitation to approach a leader a “power distance gap.”

It’s the leader’s actions that will either close that gap or create further distance. But first, you must learn to notice the gaps – “listen more” with your eyes if you will. Our “Recognizing Gaps” Tool in The Approachability Playbook provides detailed examples of how to do just that. Check it out.

How do you respond when you feel you’re being overworked, under-appreciated, or not getting enough detail to do your job? Do you tell your superior? Do you wish they would just realize it on their own? What is one thing you could do to be better at following up with your employees?


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