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How to Listen to Employees

The Danger of Listening to Employees Blog

Here is a challenge for you.

Over the next several weeks, when one of your employees approaches you and asks to speak with you, record what your immediate thought is.

Some of the thoughts that go through my mind are:

“Oh great, I get to listen to another twenty minutes of complaining.”

“I bet she is going to quit.”

“Uh-oh, what did I say that has gotten me into trouble now.”

Being a Boss

Inherent in being a boss over employees is the management of the power structure of employment.  On the one hand, many of your employees are your friends.  You may have come from their ranks before being selected for leadership.  Chances are you know their families and, in times past, would go out for drinks after work with them.

On the other hand, you control parts of their lives.  You get to select who does what, approve assignments, and have input on pay raises and promotions.  You also manage other people who you may not know as well and need to show impartiality through the ranks.

What requires managing is dividing the time with your employees as a friend and compatriot, versus spending time with your employees as their boss and mentor.

Listening to Employees

Therein lies the difficulty in listening to employees.

And as many of us know, it can get extremely difficult when the lines get blurred between being a friend/boss talking to a friend/employee.

Which is why I think so many bosses dread having an employee come up and ask, “Can I speak with you for a moment?”

Because as their boss, you don’t know who you are supposed to be, friend or boss, and to whom you will be speaking, friend or employee.

Why Listen to Employees

There should be no reason not to look forward to talking to your employees.

They could be letting you know they are resigning.  But that means you need to look for another employee.

They could be there to complain, and most organizations have plenty of things to complain about.  But that may be a source of valuable information when it is time to renew your benefits agreements and policy procedures.

They might want to give you some feedback on your leadership skills.  But that is a time for you to practice being openminded.  Everyone can improve on how they lead, and this might be some of the best insight you could get on how to improve yours.

Ironically, those conversations are the ones we think we want to avoid are the easiest to manage.

The employee conversations that are the most difficult are when they want to discuss a great idea on how to improve productivity, a new service you could offer, or a way to dramatically save money.

Think about what this conversation causes—a lot of work for you.

You now have to develop cost estimates for modifications to your processes, look at impacts to current manpower, and research market trends.  A proposal needs to be prepared and taken up the management chain for approvals.

Once approved, you will be asked to oversee all the changes.  And you will have to work overtime, interview new help, and write job descriptions.

All because one employee, instead of griping about the working conditions, had a great idea for you to follow up on.

The Bible

Interestingly, the conversations with employees we think we don’t want to have are the easiest to manage.  And the exciting conversations we should be having with employees, although they cause us a lot of work,  are the ones we seldom encourage.

Mark 4:24-25 says.

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.  Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Listen “carefully” to your employees.  They may be speaking as a friend, or as an employee.  It may be a conversation that you’d rather avoid, whether it is a complaint or a new idea that causes you more work.

Regardless, how you handle that conversation will be credited to you.

Conversations with employees should be cherished.  They may be opportunities for you to practice leadership, be a great friend, or take on the responsibility of improving your business.  God has placed you in your management role, see that you honor Him by handling all conversations wisely and respectfully.