Monday, March 30, 2009

How to become the Most Approachable Employee in Your Organization, Pt. 1

In this multi-post series, we’re going to explore daily practices to help you become known as the most approachable person in your organization.

Whether you’re an office professional, middle manager, C-level executive or part of the overnight cleaning crew, executing these strategies will accomplish three goals:

(1) Boost the net worth of your human capital.
(2) Attract MORE attention, MORE people and MORE opportunities into your professional world.
(3) Reduce the possibility that your company will kick your butt to the curb in this crappy economy.

Here we go...

1. Practice your questioning from a better place. Ideally, from a place of seeking to understand. To learn. To listen. To grow. To help. Unfortunately, too many leaders, managers and consultants will ask questions from a place of subtle, suppressed insight or camouflaged advice. As the Pointy Haired Boss from Dilbert says, “Read my mind and then recommend the decision I’ve already decided on.”

TRY THIS: Grab about ten sticky notes. On each one, write one of the following three-word mantras:

o Curious, not Gotcha.
o Discovery, not answers.
o Exploration, not accusation.
o Fascination, not frustration.
o Hypothesis, not analysis.
o Observations, not accusations.
o Responses, not reactions.
o Searching, not snooping.

Post them all around your office (especially by your phone) to reinforce this philosophy. In two weeks, I guarantee you’ll begin questioning from a better place. Are you only listening in order to confirm what you already think? How can you enter the conversation with curiosity? And what would happen to your career if you became known as the best question-asker at your company?

2. Be assertive, not aggressive. Here’s the difference: Assertive allows dialogue; aggressive prohibits listening. Assertive seeks solutions; aggressive just blames. Assertive is direct; aggressive is blunt. Assertive takes charge; aggressive takes over. Assertive invites collaboration; aggressive seeks compliance. Get the picture?

TRY THIS: Think of the ten most aggressive people you know. Then think of the ten most assertive people you know. Then ask yourself: Which group evokes more negative emotions? Which group makes people feel most uncomfortable? The answers will speak for themselves.

Remember: The only judgment people can (honestly) make is how interacting with you made them FEEL. Is your behavior underscored more by assertiveness or aggressiveness? If you asked that same question to the ten people you work with most frequently, what would their answer be? And what can you do in the next ten days to become less aggressive and more assertive?

3. Recognize disagreements as opportunities. First, as opportunities to listen and enable dialogue. Not arguing. Not backing away. Not getting defensive. Dialogue. Use Phrases That Payses like, “What tells you that?” “I’m curious about that line of thinking,” and “Is that something you want to talk about?”

TRY THIS: Recognize disagreements as opportunities to ask questions. More specifically, to positively challenge others to midwive their own solutions. Not telling. Not fixing. Not solving. Facilitating an exploration of their ideas, thus enabling them to give birth to their own understanding.

Now, I know I said it before, but it bears repeating: Don’t view feedback as a direct challenge to your intelligence and authority, nor as a threat to your position or role. Get over yourself and get inside the words. How many new opportunities did you overlook yesterday because you were blinded by defensiveness? How are you encouraging disagreements? And what would happen to your perception as a leader if you greeted all comments, ideas and suggestions with a welcoming heart?

4. Respond positively to all reports. If you constantly say, “Don’t bring me problems – bring me solutions!” you will scare people into thinking that the only time they can ever approach you is when their information is positive. As a result, you’ll always be in the dark when it comes to others' concerns.

This, of course, sucks.

Your unapproachable appearance will stop communication in its tracks. What’s more, you’ll become the last one to find out how you’re doing.

TRY THIS: I challenge you to consistently respond to good AND bad news in a supportive, helpful and non-emotionally reactive way. That gives people permission to come back to you with their ideas, questions, concerns and thoughts. Seek to suspend your judgment and evaluation of what people tell you until you’ve taken adequate time to process their information. What’s the positive learning experience in this failure? What good could come of this? And now that you know this, what else does this make possible?

5. Share what you’re thinking and feeling. If people never know what’s on your mind, your unpredictability will create apprehension in their process of approaching you. And the silent dialogue will become, “For all I know, she could be a ticking time bomb this morning! Better not say anything deep or lengthy.”

As a result of this unapproachable pattern, here’s what happens:

o Your communication topics will always remain superficial with the people around you.

o Nobody will get to the heart of any important issues because they’re unsure about how you might react.

o People (might) end up doing the exact opposite of what you wanted, and it will be YOUR fault because they won’t know any better.

o You’ll eventually drive the people around you CRAZY because you can only ask someone “How are you?” so many times in one day before they develop the desire to start beating themselves with a stapler.

Sack up. Just tell people what’s on your mind. No need to relying on clouding every interaction to feel in control. How are you initiating movements toward people? What is causing you to be easily misunderstood? And what are you doing that prevents people from learning from you?

6. Communicate before you have to. Otherwise it will feel forced, superficial and therefore, ineffective. In the book Total Life Coaching, authors Williams & Thomas suggest that when people only communicate out of need, their need speaks louder than their words. This results in an imbalance between verbal and non-verbal expressions. (Not good.)

TRY THIS: Tell the truth, tell it all and tell it now. Otherwise people will fill in the gaps with their own worse case scenarios. Even if that means saying, “Steve, I have no answer for you right now, so I promise to let you know by the end of the day.” This reinforces others’ involvement in the decision-making process. What’s more, the speed of the response IS the response.

Ultimately, if you learn to approach people when they don’t have problems, they’ll be more likely to approach you when they DO have problems. By responding with early intervention, you solve small problems before they snowball into big problems. What are you turning your problems into? How could you communicate with this person despite your lack of need to do so? And how much less stress would your body feel if you just told the truth, right now?

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How will you become the most approachable employee in your organization?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
For the list called, "26 Rapid-Fire Strategies for Turning Approachability into PROFIT-ability," send an email to me, and I'll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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