Things your employee won’t tell you, but that you need to hear.

good convo begins with good listeningAs a manager, your employee likely comes to you for answers and advice. But certain topics feel difficult, if not impossible, for your reports to approach with their manager. That’s when it’s your job to listen for the signs and address them effectively. 

What sort of things are they not telling you?

I need training. Not, I need an answer to this specific question. This is more of an “I feel a little under-skilled for the task I’ve been given.” No employee is going to feel 100% confident about every aspect of their job, if they’re in the right one (one that challenges them). But it’s still difficult to tell your boss that, in regards to this specific task, you kind of don’t know what you’re doing. So a good manager learns to listen for the clues that an employee is feeling uncertain. For example, the employee may try to pass the task off to another employee who he views as having “more experience” in that area. Or he may make comments out of frustration like, “I don’t even know where to start.” When you see these signs, rather than giving the project to someone else, show your confidence in your employee by providing some one-on-one coaching – provided he’s interested in learning.

I’m overworked. While some employees have no problem telling you they need a break, others will exhaust themselves before they tell you they’re stretched too thin. By that time, they’re burnt out. If you see an employee skipping lunch and working long hours on a regular basis, take notice. And listen for subtle complaints that don’t outright say, but suggest they’re overwhelmed, such as “Which of these items on my to-do list is of most/least importance, because I’m worried about being able to get them all done.”

I’m not being stimulated. It’s hard for an employee to tell her boss she’s bored, for fear she’ll insult someone or worse, lose her job. If she’s asking for more work, that’s a crystal clear sign she needs a project to challenge her!

I need you to step in to potentially avoid a crisis. Perhaps a project is being derailed or a client is at risk of being lost. Employees don’t want to seem incompetent to you, so it may be difficult for some of them to be blunt about the situation. But when the stakes are this high, as a leader you need to recognize the clues in time to remedy the problem. Ask for regular status updates and listen carefully to the tone of the answer. If it’s negative, such as, “The client is getting angry,” then it’s time to intervene. 

Sure, it’d be easier if your employees would always be upfront and direct. But the fact is, they often aren’t. Learning to listen will make you a more effective leader, your employees happier, and your company more successful.


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