Compliments of Peter Fristedt via Flickr

The relationship with the boss is arguably the most important one regarding workers’ emotional health. Noting the profound impact that you can have on your employees, establishing positive rapport is imperative to ensuring optimum performance. Below are some tips for expanding the lines of communication:

If you want productivity to soar, have an honest conversation about improving your relationship. I love what Jack Canfield does on a weekly basis – he asks his employees to rate their relationship on a scale of 1 – 10. If it’s less than a 10, he then asks what it would take to improve. He explains that the sometimes negative, no holds barred feedback is not always easy to hear, but in acting on employee concerns he invariably improves the relationship. Leaders like Jack Canfield and Tom Chappell are willing to hear the barbs without becoming defense, combative, or issuing an ultimatum. These leaders set their egos aside in the spirit of fostering participatory management, democratic interaction, and kaizen, or continuous improvement. This semester I’ve tried a variation of this approach in my online classes. Students now have a suggestion box in which they can describe desired features they would like to see in the course. The results have been astounding not only in the improvements that have resulted, but from the fact that they now feel a sense of ownership in the class and a fearlessness to tell me what’s on their minds. This type of interaction has truly been a gift.    

  1. The image of Kevin Costner running with arms outstretched into enemy territory [in the movie, Dances with Wolves] has stuck with me. Ironically, the enemy chose not to fire. Two way discourse is simply a courtesy to the individuals with whom you interact. Have you ever asked a subordinate, “How do I come across? What would you change?” If not, then perhaps your objective is simply to talk at someone in order to avoid the messier relational issues that might cause you discomfort. Choose to bridge the gulf of non-communication through practiced vulnerability. 
  2. We’ve all heard of preventative medicine – what about preventative management? Have an honest, no holds barred interaction with your employees on a regular basis, and not simply at year end. Are your workers happy? Are they grumpy? Are they dissatisfied with how you transact your business, or with how you treat them? If you sense that something is amiss or if someone is avoiding you, be proactive in your attempts to improve the situation. If the only time you communicate with someone is when you’re displeased, angry, or suspicious, what kind of rapport do you expect to have with that person? Everything you do leaves behavioral residue in the mind’s eye of another person, with negative interactions packing five times the punch of positive ones. Remember that unresolved conflict is what surfaces to the top of employees’ memory when they see you. In a multicultural workforce also realize that there are individuals who feel uncomfortable approaching the boss either because of cultural upbringing, or as a result of family conditioning. If you are the one in charge you will need to take the bull by the horns and make the first effort to eradicate barriers at work.
  3. Lay all of your behavioral cards on the table. You appear one dimensional when you hide your humanity, and when you seem inscrutable to those with whom you interact. Trust implies a degree of predictability, free speech, and a manager who is willing to listen. In some cases you’ll have to put yourself at the mercy of someone else by letting that person tell you what’s on his or her mind (with the intent of acting on the suggestions). As a manager you’ve given up the right to be emotionally labile. Be a boss with whom others discuss problems, and not someone with whom your employees “test the waters” to ascertain your mood. A quieted set of workers is easier to control, but more difficult from whom to extract honest feedback. Relationship is the bedrock foundation from which to proceed. Don’t leave employees in the unsettled place of never knowing where they stand.
  4. How often do we launch into a litany of what we need, without regard to the contributions of other people? Why does gratitude so easily escape us? Regularly acknowledge employee contributions to improve the communication flow and the way they feel about you. Practice the lost art of saying “thank you.”
  5. Apologize. When you behave badly, don’t pretend like nothing happened and then expect to conduct business as usual. Allow the other person to retain his or her dignity by first acknowledging your wrongdoing, and then explaining your mindset. A relationship premised on pushback results in resentment, silent submission, and in a group comprised of extremes – either bullies or managerial sycophants.
  6. Concentrate on supportive as opposed to transactional management. If your first inclination is to slap hands, then you have lost the opportunity to engage in civil dialogue. Moreover, if people are deprived of voice they will find other means to express their dissatisfaction. Being in the corner office can create a sense of entitlement, and an impenetrable outer shell that’s oblivious to others’ feelings. Seek to create a symphony of dissimilar voices, as opposed to one voice that is channeled through a singular node. Over-focus on job completion can create an obtuseness, and an inability to discern unhappy vibrations. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – and leadership unchallenged results in a sense of imminent domain regarding the behavior of other people. Don’t stand over someone with a managerial flyswatter. What will result is a workforce that is docile, compliant, and subdued, sedated by an excessive need for control coupled with supervision that is overly directive. If what you desire is obedience, than perhaps managing people is not your bailiwick.
  7. Get to know employees as individuals. As a supervisor you’ll need to do more than simply inquire into workers’ well being and to occasionally express banal pleasantries. Emotional stinginess is an approach that can permeate throughout the department, resulting in “the business of strangers” as opposed to a cohort of teammates.
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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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