When you try to have meaningful conversations with your employees, the outcome can be hit-or-miss. Let’s say you are interested in what motivates them and how they like to be rewarded. This is important and well intended, but they may not be completely open with you until they have more experience with you.
Another way to say this is that they are not going to share what is close to their hearts unless they know they can trust you.
Yet when you think about what takes to develop the openness to have significant conversations, it can seem overwhelming. Trust doesn’t come instantly. You know you can accelerate building the relationship with more time spent with each other, like one-on-one meetings, but this can feel too contrived and time-consuming.
Regular one-on-one meetings won’t work — or will they?
You may think you don’t have time for something like regular one-on-one meetings. You have too many employees to do this anyway.
You buy into the value of one-on-one interactions but, at the same time, if you put too much structure to this, you worry about being viewed as a micro-manager.
You do meet one-on-one regularly, but the talk always gravitates to status updates of tasks and projects. It can be uncomfortable getting into the meatier stuff.
You can ask about motivations and aspirations at annual performance appraisal time or during midyear reviews, but this approach has its limitations. For some employees a performance assessment is nerve-wracking even if they are good performers. Under these circumstances, they may not be as clear and open about their goals as you would like.
You may prefer to rely on an open-door policy, or informally dropping in on employees, or “management by walking around.” These approaches have their place. At the same time, you communicate something important when you insist on deliberately scheduled one-on-one time.
There is no substitute for human connection.
You can create the space for developing valuable understanding and trust by regularly meeting with your employees, purposely covering topics that are meaningful to you both. An important aspect is keeping a regular schedule. Take advantage of having these meetings while nothing too dramatic is going on between the two of you. You get to practice being open with each other. Then, when one of you has a difficult message to deliver there’s less room for misunderstanding or defensiveness.
Show them you mean business.
These meetings can be 15 minutes or an hour. Every week or every quarter. Make it work for you.
When you put a stake in the ground around these interactions, you telegraph to employees your commitment to their success. Despite employees’ resistance or discomfort, their reactions can shift. Over time they will come to take this meeting time as seriously as you. You will have created a strong foundation for the powerful two-person team that is you and your employee.
Mary C. Schaefer is a speaker, coach, trainer and consultant specializing in creating manager-employee communication breakthroughs and functional and positive work cultures. Connect with Schaefer via the Re-Imagine Work blog or on Twitter @MarySchaefer.