“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower~
At a team meeting, Valerie pitched a marketing strategy she’d been thinking about for a while. A fellow team member vocally outlined a number of holes in the plan, leaving Valerie feeling shaken. She’d believed this was the best idea she’d ever brought to the table.
“Dealing with dissenters in the workplace can be scary,” a colleague told her later over coffee. “It forces you to get outside of your comfort zone and hear criticism about your ideas, your performance, or group dynamics that might sting at first.” Often it’s hard to hear because it’s expressed with a tone of anger or frustration, her colleague acknowledged. He then added, “But dissent is actually a gift—it points out gaps that need to be filled, weaknesses that need to be strengthened. When you’re open to hearing dissent, you’ll continually improve your best ideas. Plus, open communication is key to building trust in the workplace.”
How to encourage dissent at work:
- Ask for critiques. Soliciting criticism is the only way to make your people feel comfortable voicing it. Don’t assume they feel comfortable stating it just because you respond well to it. Ask for it assertively; show real enthusiasm for hearing it, rather than making weak statements like, “Feel free to voice any criticism you might have.” Explain why dissent is so important to your organization to show you’re committed to hearing and using it. Trusting your people to provide input will make your whole team shine.
- Ask follow-up questions. To really listen to what your dissenters have to say, prompt people to explain their rationale for their dissenting opinions. If in a group discussion, ask others what they think about the dissenting opinion. Dig deep into the issue, igniting conversation that helps people more fully understand how they feel about the issue. That way, the dissent won’t just be taken at face value, and one person won’t shift the direction of the plan without everyone’s input. Dissent in the workforce needs to be explored, validated, and utilized by the group to be effective.
- Make sure the comments are directed to the people who need to hear them. Communicating dissent is only empowering if the people voicing it know it will be heard by someone with the ability to use their feedback. Make sure people know who will hear their comments. For example, tell your team about your upcoming meeting with high-level executives and assure them you’ll share their feedback there, if appropriate. Then follow through, and share the results with your team.
- Ask for solutions. Challenge dissenters to present possible solutions, even far-fetched ones. When people start thinking creatively, solutions that higher-ups never imagined might take shape. However, people should feel free to voice dissent regardless of whether they’ve thought of a solution yet or not.
- Rework the plan together. If critiques go to only one person who reformulates the plan singlehandedly, you’ll just see different problems arise. The plan needs to be reworked by a group who can see it from different vantage points and talk through concerns that arise in the moment.
- Express gratitude for the dissent. When you share genuine gratitude in the workplace with someone for having the courage to voice their dissent, you’ll encourage more constructive dissent in the future. Thank the person in front of the group to send the message to everyone.
Dealing with dissenters in your workplace will grow easier as voicing dissent becomes an accepted part of the culture. When it’s welcomed rather than feared, people will start to present it in a more positive way rather than feeling they have to be aggressive about it or stay silent. As people put it into practice, they’ll hone their ideas into stronger plans of action. Additionally, hearing and working with dissent is an important way of becoming a strong communicator, which is key to career advancement. Valerie and her team worked to address the issues raised at the meeting, and together they created a plan that was stronger than any of them could have created on their own.
Do you encourage dissent in your workplace, or do you avoid it? Looking back, can you see any missed opportunities to grow from dissent? Share your stories here.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” ~Andrew Carnegie~
Client Gina Asks:
As a leader, I want to have a stronger impact on team morale. Some leaders seem to always have the right words to make people feel supported and energized. Can you give me some tips on what to say to keep my team inspired?
Coach Joel Answers:
Great leaders make sure to use team-building phrases each day. To become a better leader, use them not only with the people you supervise, but also with other colleagues. These phrases, when used by leaders in any field, will build strong working relationships that bolster the effectiveness of the whole team. Use them, and others will also perceive you as a stronger leader—someone who empowers others and values their contributions.
- “What can we achieve?” Asking this question will help team members develop a common vision for a project. To ensure the best chance of success, all team members must believe in the vision. Posing this question will reveal areas where people lack confidence and problems that need to be addressed. It will also help to define a realistic goal, as team members’ distinct areas of expertise will give them important input about what you can accomplish together.
- “What can I do better?” This question is one of the most important (but often overlooked) phrases used by great leaders. A great leader welcomes constructive feedback about her performance. Asking this question rather than passively waiting for feedback makes it feel safer for employees to share their input. In turn, the leader has the opportunity to strengthen her performance based on this feedback.
- “Thank you.” It’s easy to say “thanks” in a brusque way, but sharing genuine gratitude requires more thought. Say exactly what you’re thankful for, in a moment when you can focus your full attention on sharing your appreciation. Make eye contact and smile, which will give greater emphasis to your words. And whenever possible, share your thanks in front of others on the team, so team members will come to notice and appreciate each other’s strengths more.
- “What’s your opinion?” All employees want to feel that their opinions are valued. By asking this question of team members frequently, you’ll help bring a greater diversity of ideas to the table. Posing this question to specific individuals at meetings will help spark dialogue about ideas that need to be hashed out.
- “I need your help.” Rather than issuing demands, come to employees with a request. Let them know that you need (and appreciate) their skills to get the job done. They’ll take much more pride in their work when you frame requests in this way.
- “What drives you?” Great leaders want to know what their employees are passionate about. They want to know what energizes them, what motivates them to do their best each day. This knowledge helps them to delegate work appropriately, so each employee has the chance to do more of what fuels her. Plus, finding out what employees are passionate about will aid you in succession planning, preparing them to take on more responsibility in that area.
Leaders who frequently use these phrases will see the team’s performance improve alongside their own. Practice using these phrases at team meetings and in everyday interactions in the workplace. Your employees will come to see you as more personable, supportive, and team-focused, and they’ll feel more driven to work as a team in turn.
Try using all six of these phrases this week, and take notes on the interactions they spark. Email Joel with any questions about your results.
How did people respond when you used these phrases? Do you have other go-to phrases for boosting team morale?
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
Caleb, a manager in his workplace, often found himself fumbling for words. He wanted to learn how to make the most of his daily interactions with employees, even the brief ones. He reached out to several mentors in leadership positions. “What are the most important things you say to your employees?” he asked.
Strong leaders use phrases that give employees a powerful motivational boost, his mentors said. These phrases aren’t just sprinkled into a conversation. Rather, they often guide the direction of a conversation by opening a space for authentic sharing of ideas and appreciation. These five phrases are the building blocks to positive relationships based on strong communication, Caleb’s mentors told him.
- “You have what it takes.” It’s crucial to let people know you believe in them. They need to feel confident in their abilities in order to fully apply themselves. Find ways each day to express your confidence in people. Encourage them to take risks when you believe they’re likely to succeed, and to tackle ambitious projects.
- “How does that work?”This phrase resounds with humbleness, as well as the self-assurance to admit that you don’t know everything. As a leader, it’s vital to recognize that everyone possesses specific expertise and a distinct perspective. Knowing when to encourage them to share their expertise is an important skill for a leader. This is a good phrase to use in a meeting with more reserved team members who don’t normally boast about their knowledge. When you know they can explain something well that others will benefit from knowing, give them a confidence boost by asking this question.
- “I’m impressed.” This is one of the most important phrases used by leaders. When you take notice of others’ skills or contributions, let them know. Be specific about what you admire about their talents and efforts. Sharing your appreciation will encourage them to continue making a strong effort in the future. Use this phrase in front of other employees or higher-ups so that others will take notice as well, making this simple phrase an even bigger motivation booster.
- “What do you need?” Asking what employees need in order to carry out their work effectively shows you want to be supportive of their efforts. It also reveals a high level of confidence in others. Rather than micromanaging how their work should be carried out, you’re viewing them as the expert in how it should be done. A strong leader has the ability to play a supportive role by asking this question and following through. Posing this question in a more general way—in terms of how the workplace or job conditions could better meet employees’ needs—may help reveal broader areas of need, such as help with stress management or budgeting time.
- “What is your vision?” Likewise, this question shows that you value the ideas of others. You want them to feel invested in their work. And you know they’ll feel much more invested if they play a strong role in designing their own work performance goals. During one-on-one meetings, you should also ask them about their vision for their career and how they plan to work toward it over the next several years. This will show that you care about their career goals and will help you prepare talented team members for advancement.
Leaders who use these phrases are positioning themselves for advancement by improving employees’ job satisfaction and getting the most of their people. “Write down these phrases and keep them somewhere handy, on your desk or wall,” one mentor told Caleb. “Make sure they’re in a spot where you’ll look at them often, so you’ll have a continual reminder to use them. You’ll soon use them without thinking about it, and it will feel more natural every day.”
Try using all four of these phrases over the next couple of days. Email Joel for more advice on making your people feel motivated to excel in their jobs.
Have you used these phrases with people you supervise? Do you have other favorite phrases for motivating people that you’d like to share?
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”
~ Doug Larson ~
Kevin is on the management fast track at a Fortune 500 company. He’s outgoing, friendly, never met a stranger. He sees himself as a real deal-maker. Yet a lot of people in Kevin’s world routinely keep their distance when he enters the room. Even some of his clients seem to shut down when he’s around. He doesn’t quite understand why others don’t see him the same way he sees himself.
In his recent 360 review, ten stakeholders did provide quality feedback to Kevin. These insights began to shed some light on the situation. Frankly, he just talks too much. His co-workers and managers see him as a bit of a phony, maybe someone who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, even as someone who’s not to be trusted. The main message he heard in the feedback was to talk less and listen more.
Kevin realized he needed to make some immediate changes. His first thought was “hire an executive coach” and he did exactly that. He knew that getting advice and feedback from a neutral third party could speed up and enhance his process of personal change dramatically.
Kevin’s coach was very specific. “In order to project confidence and speak with authority, you need to talk less and listen more. What you have, Kevin, (to quote Cool Hand Luke) is a failure to communicate.” Within a week after his executive coach was hired, the two of them created this 4-step plan:
1. For at least the first two weeks, don’t speak up in meetings at all, unless someone addresses you directly. Listen and take notes instead.
2. For the next two weeks, when you’re with clients or in a meeting, don’t speak up or offer opinions unless someone asks you. Instead ask questions, such as “Where did you find that information?” or “What do you think the outcome of that strategy would be?” Take notes on the answers.
3. Cultivate relationships with senior managers whose attitude and behavior you admire. Spend time with them and begin to model your communication style after theirs. Schedule regular coffee dates or informal meetings and ask for their advice and feedback.
4. After practicing the listening strategy for a month, gradually begin to speak up in meetings, offer new ideas to clients, and make low-key comments in groups or with other co-workers. Keep notes about how others are reacting to you now and adjust your strategy accordingly. Always, however, emphasize listening over speaking.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Kevin’s executive coach told him. “And this is what you hired me for! People don’t listen to you because they are too accustomed to your having something to say for every occasion. When you make a habit of talking less (or not at all), you’ll get their attention immediately when you do speak up.”
Six months later, Kevin felt that his implementation of the 4-step plan had totally changed how he was perceived in the company. He had his strategy of talking less and listening more.
Are the people you work with tuning you out? Take a look at your communication style and see how much time you spend talking rather than listening. Follow Kevin’s four-step plan, or hire an executive coach for assistance. Joel can provide some valuable suggestions. Why not email him today?
Talkback: Have you made successful changes in your communication style? How did you do it? Share your story here.
Image courtesy of Pixabay/ pixabay.com
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
~ Robert Frost ~
Randy is more than a little anxious. He’s been moving ahead rapidly on the fast track with his company and he knows that his C-level managers see him as an emerging leader. Now, however, his boss has just presented him with a new challenge: mentor two employees who have just joined the firm. Randy has had a few good mentors in the past, but there’s a big difference between having one and being one. And he hasn’t been one since he tutored his girlfriend in math when they were high school seniors. He needs to be ready in two weeks. What to do first?
Like all creative leaders, Randy begins to brainstorm and research. Within a few hours, he has the outline of a game plan and knows exactly what he needs to do to become a great mentor:
- Develop a servant mentality
- Ask the right questions
- Cultivate their strengths
- Model executive presence
- Put them in the spotlight
1. Develop a servant mentality. The mentee is the star of your little show, so always keep him or her in the limelight. They may not be comfortable there, at least in the beginning. Every actor has butterflies on opening night, after all. Your job is to cheerlead, comfort, and encourage. And stay in the background.
2. Ask the right questions. Robert Ridel, in his book Critical Thinking for Everyday Life, says that “to question is to understand.” Probing, open-ended questions often lead other people to discover answers and ideas that they didn’t know they had. Always approach questioning from the positive point of view:
- Why do you think that worked so well?
- What would you do differently next time?
- If you were the client, what questions would you ask?
3. Cultivate their strengths. Being in a new position, or with a new company, is challenging in itself. Fear of failure may lie pretty close to the surface. Now is the time to remind your mentee of what she or he has already accomplished. They landed this job, didn’t they? And that was based on a track record of prior successes. Get them to talk about those successes and how to translate them into the current environment. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the downside. As George Lucas said, when discussing Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, “Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It’s the only way we grow.” You can see both sides but always accentuate the positive.
4. Model executive presence. You already have the right skills and attitude. That’s why you were chosen to become a mentor. You are not only talented, you create an impact when you enter the room. You know how to influence others, and you consistently provide added value to every project you manage. Always demonstrate these traits when working with your mentees. Come from a place of teaching, not from ego.
Good approach: “We just made a really successful presentation. Why do you think it worked?”
Not so good: “Wow! That was fantastic. I just love it when I knock it out of the park.”
5. Put them in the spotlight. When your mentee scores a win, give him the credit. Let him know when he hits a home run. Don’t hesitate to brag to your peers and C-level executives about what a great job he’s doing. Then use that win as a foundation for continuing to grow.
Six months after Randy took on his first two mentees, he was asked to develop a mentoring model to be implemented company-wide. Today, mentoring is a way of life, based on the initial plan he put together.
Are you about to become a mentor? Or are you already a mentor and need some new ideas to motivate your mentees? Email Joel today for his suggestions.
Talkback: Have you successfully mentored employees or others in your industry? What tips would you like to share with our readers?
Image courtesy of Pixabay/ pixabay.com