When you spend time with your people then it’s inevitable that that you’ll hear about their concerns and problems. These could be on a human level; however they’re more likely to be on a business level.
Whether it’s a human or a business problem, the same rules apply.
1. Don’t get hooked
Don’t react to a concern. It’s very easy to react with – ‘Here we go again, the same old moans and groans. They’re always on about this and there’s nothing I can do.’
If you react this way, then it’ll show on your face and in your tone of voice. The team member then thinks – ‘What’s the point; he’s not interested in my problems, why should I bother.’
Get into thinking mode and stay out of it emotionally. Concentrate on listening non-defensively and actively. If the team member makes disparaging and emotional remarks – don’t rise to the bait.
2. Listen – listen – listen
Look and sound like you’re listening. When face to face you need to look interested, nod your head and keep good eye contact. Over the phone you need to make the occasional ‘Uh-Huh – I see.’
I’ve seen managers, when faced with a problem from a team member, start to do something else, like work on the computer. And I’ve heard them say – ‘It’s okay, I can do two things at once, I can listen to you and work on the computer.’ Maybe you can, but the message your team member gets is – ‘My problem isn’t that important, my manager just isn’t interested.’
When you’re spending time with your people you need to give them your full attention. You need to look them in the eye, concentrate on them and make them feel that what they say is important and deserves your attention
3. Write it down
As well as looking interested in your team member’s concern, it’s a good idea to write it down. I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking – ‘I’ll remember that when I get back to the office and I’ll check on it.’ However, one person I was with said – ‘You wont do anything about that Alan because you wont remember it.’ From that point on I wrote things down.
4. Repeat back
It’s also a good idea to paraphrase what the team member has said to ensure your understanding and let them know you’ve been listening
5. Use names
It may seem like a simple thing but it’s very important. You could say in response to a concern – ‘I’ll speak to the accounts department about that.’
It would be far better to say – ‘I’ll speak to the accounts department about that Susan, thank you for bringing it to my attention.’
A person’s name is one of the warmest sounds they ever hear. It says – ‘I recognize you as an individual.’
However, I suggest you don’t overdo it as it may come across as patronizing.
6. Take ownership
This is the same as dealing with an external customer. Your team members do not want to hear you say – ‘That’s nothing to do with me, that’s the sales departments fault.’ Do not blame someone or something else. It may be the responsibility of the sales department but it needs to be explained in a logical and factual wa
7. Watch out for people’s ego
If your team member is really wound up about something, let them get it off their chest. Don’t interrupt and don’t argue. Don’t jump in with solutions and try to solve the problem then and there. And for goodness sake, don’t ever say – ‘Calm down.’
8. See it from their point of vie
You might find it hard to understand what they’re on about; however put yourself in their shoes. If you were doing their job every day, how would you feel? You might even think that their concern is something fairly trivial and you think – ‘What’s the big deal, I’ll fix it right away.’
It is a big deal for the team member and they want you to appreciate it.
You don’t necessarily need to agree with them; however you need to accept the fact that it’s a problem for them
9. Be very aware of your body language and voice ton
We often exacerbate a situation without realizing it. Our tone of voice and our body language can often contradict what we’re saying. We may be saying ‘sorry’ however our tone and our body language may be communicating our frustration and annoyance. People listen with their eyes and will set greater credence on how you say something rather than what you say.
It’s also important to use a warm tone of voice when dealing with a team member’s problem. This doesn’t mean being ‘nicey-nicey’ or behaving in a non assertive manner. It’s about showing that you’re interested in what they’re saying and that you care
10. Words to avoid
The wrong tone of voice and body language can cause problems to get worse. However, using the wrong words can also cause problems. There are certain “trigger” words that cause people to become more difficult especially in emotionally charged situations and they should be avoided. These include:
Have to, as in – ‘You’ll have to speak to sales department yourself.’
I can’t or you can’t, as in – ‘I can’t do anything about that’ or ‘You can’t do that.’
I’ll try, as in ‘I’ll try and speak to finance department today.’
But, as in – ‘I agree with what you’re saying but……..’
Sorry, as in – ‘I’m sorry ‘bout that.’
Instead of the words ‘have to’ which are very controlling type words, why not try – ‘John, are you willing to…’ or just a straight ‘John, will you….’
Can’t, can be replaced with – ‘I’m unable to because….
‘I’ll try,’ which is pretty wishy-washy, can be replaced with something more honest – ‘This is what I can do Mary’ or ‘This is what I’m unable to do.’
‘But’ is a word that contradicts what was said before it, replace it with – ‘And’ or ‘However’ (which is a soft ‘but’) Instead of saying ‘but’ you could leave it out altogether.
For example; instead of – ‘I agree with what you’re saying but I can’t help you, use – ‘I agree with what you’re saying. The reason I’m unable to help you is……’
At the end of the day the answer to the team member could be ‘no’ however, choosing your words more carefully will have a more positive affect on how he or she reacts and ultimately responds to you.
‘Sorry’ is one of the words to avoid because it is so overused and it’s lost its value. Think of the number of times you’ve complained or commented about something and you hear – ‘Sorry ‘bout that.’ If you’re going to use the ‘sorry’ word then you need to use it as part of a whole sentence. ‘Susan, I’m sorry you’ve been receiving so many complaints.’
Sometimes it’s appropriate to use the word ‘apologize’ instead of ‘sorry.’ ‘Linda, I apologize for not getting you that information sooner.’
There are other things you can say instead of ‘sorry,’ you can empathize.
11. Deal with their feelings, and then deal with their problem
Using empathy is a very effective way to deal with a person’s feelings. Empathy isn’t about agreement, only acceptance of what the team member is saying and feeling. Basically the message is – ‘I understand how you feel.’
This really has to be a genuine response, the person will realize if you’re insincere and they’ll feel patronized.
Examples of empathy would be – ‘Chris, I can understand that you’re angry,’ or ‘I see what you mean.’ Again these responses need to be genuine.
12. Build rapport
Sometimes it’s useful to add another phrase to the empathy response, including yourself in the picture – ‘I can understand how you feel Colin, I don’t like that either when it happens to me.’ This has the effect of getting on the team members side and builds rapport.
Some people get concerned when using this response; they believe it’ll lead to – ‘Well why don’t you do something about it then?’
The majority of your team won’t respond this way if they realize that you are a reasonable and caring person. If they do then continue empathizing and tell the individual what you’ll do about the situation.
13. Under promise, over deliver
Whatever way you respond to a team member’s problem, do not make a rod for your own back. It’s often tempting in a difficult situation to make promises that are difficult to keep.
We say things like – ‘I’ll get this sorted this afternoon Paul and I’ll phone you back.’ It may be extremely difficult to get it sorted this afternoon.
Far better to say – ‘I’ll get this sorted by tomorrow afternoon Paul.’ Then phone Paul back the same afternoon or early the next morning and he’ll think you’re great.
14. You don’t win them all
Remember, everyone gets a little mad from time to time and you won’t always be able to placate or resolve your team member’s problem; there’s no magic formula. However the majority of people in this world are reasonable people, and if you treat them as such, then they’re more likely to respond in a positive manner.