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7 things employees are thinking - but won't say

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We all use filters, especially when we communicate with people above us in the corporate food chain.  (Show me an employee who tells his boss everything on his mind and I'll show you an employee soon to be fired.)

Sometimes a little verbal restraint is a good thing, but it can keep you from understanding what employees really think - and more importantly need.
Here are 7 things employees are definitely thinking but will never say:

"Give me an important task and I know you respect me..." Assigning a critical task to an employee is a definite sign of respect. The more important the project and the bigger the impact if the project succeeds -- or fails -- the greater the implied respect.  But why stop there? "...but give me an important task that I have to figure out and I know you trust me." As a leader, it's natural to tell employees how to carry out a particular task.  After all, you know what needs to be accomplished and have definite ideas regarding how.  Assign a project without extensive direction or outlining a series of steps and employees instantly know you not only respect their abilities but also trust their creativity and judgment.  Feeling respected is great; feeling respected and trusted is awesome.

"In fact, I would like to stay here my entire career." Job-hopping statistics get a lot of attention.  For example, the average baby boomer held an average of 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 44.  Lost in statistics is the fact most people don't leave for more money; most leave a job because of a poor relationship with a boss. Don't assume high employee turnover is a fact of employment life.  Find out why employees want to leave and address those issues.  Employees don't start checking employment ads unless you give them reasons.  Few people look forward to the upheaval and stress of starting a new job unless the old job -- and old employer -- was terrible.

"I appreciate that you stopped to talk... but can't you see it gets me behind?" While especially true in production environments, this applies everywhere.  The boss stops by to "talk," monopolizes the employee's time... and when the boss walks away the employee is left to catch up on their work.  Employees want you to talk to them but they have work to do, too.  In some settings there's an easy fix, especially if the job involves physical tasks:  Just help out while you talk.  Not only will the employee appreciate the mini-break, chatting will be a lot less forced.  Otherwise pick your spots.  If nothing else, never interrupt a busy employee just because your calendar says it's time to wander the floor and grace the staff with your presence.

"I don't care about your personal life..." Talking about non-work subjects is a good way to establish rapport and a basis for a personal relationship, but what do you talk about with someone you don't know well?  Many bosses naturally default to talking about themselves (just one of the symptoms of Lead Singer Disease, or LSD.)  Bad move.  Employees -- new employees especially -- have no interest in your kids, your hobbies, or your vacation plans. They would much rather hear how they're  performing.

"...and I can tell you don't care about my personal life." Questions like, "How's the family?" or "Any plans for the weekend?" or "How 'bout those Steelers?" are clearly forced, at least to the employee.  That's especially true where longer-term employees are concerned.  If over time you can't get to know an employee well enough to have slightly meaningful conversations, don't try.  Stick to work-related topics.  Think of it this way:  Put the same effort into getting to know your employees that you would into getting to know a key customer and you'll be fine.

"Would it kill you to say "thanks" once in awhile?" I know. Employees are paid to do a job.  Thanks comes in the form of their paycheck.  True but incomplete. Find specific reasons to thank employees for what they do.  Look for accomplishments, no matter how small, and express appreciation.  "Thanks for staying a few minutes late yesterday."  "Thanks for figuring out how to get the order shipped on time."  "Thanks for letting me know about that database problem; if you hadn't told me we who knows how long we would have kept having issues."  Saying thanks is easy - and is a great conversation starter.

Final thought: Where employee conversations are concerned, always apply a 4:1 ratio.  Make sure the employee speaks four times as much as you do.

When you do, you'll be surprised by what you hear - and by the relationships you'll build.

By Jeff Haden




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