Best Practice

Here’s a tried and trusted tool for better workplace dialogue and engagement

Numerous surveys, interviews, and research into employee satisfaction have shown that employees want to be heard, respected, and involved in their organization.

They value open, honest, two-way communication, and they don’t want to be left in the dark about changes in the company.

Employee communication professionals can help model behavior for employees — and leaders — by setting the tone for effective communication. In his Poppulo webinar, Sean Williams, vice president of True Digital Communications, shared a tool – HEAR –  that can help you foster effective communication by listening to employees and changing how you respond.

HEAR Your Employees

The HEAR tool aims to help you improve your listening by focusing your attention on four steps: honor, echo, ask, and respond.

Honor

Honoring is the first step, and it’s crucial for setting a tone of respect and openness from the top down. It means giving employees your full attention during a conversation. Employee communications professionals are busy folks and often need to juggle multiple projects and deadlines.

But trying to multitask — say, by quickly finishing an email or skimming a report — while an employee is sharing an issue or concern is going to make the employee feel unappreciated and unheard. Instead, either put aside other work during the conversation or postpone the talk until you’ve met that impending deadline or wrapped up your immediate tasks. Look at the employee while he or she is speaking, and be sure your body language reads as open, not defensive, distracted, or uninterested.

Echo

Once you’ve heard what the employee has shared, echo back the employee’s thoughts. Paraphrase and repeat the employee’s concern or complaint as you’ve heard it. Then invite the employee to correct you if you’ve not gotten the message quite right. This will help you create dialogue and be sure you accurately heard and understood the employee.

Ask

Now it’s time to ask questions. In his webinar, Sean likened this task to the quote famously attributed to Michelangelo: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” In the same way, the true issues may be hidden in the employee’s complaint, and you can use questions as your hammer and chisel. Ask specific, probing questions to set the underlying issues free.

Respond

Finally, respond with encouragement. Whether the employee shared a concern, complaint, criticism, or flat-out resistance, you still need to respond sensitively. Use this as an opportunity to encourage dialogue and discussion and to try to engage the employee.

Instead of dismissing or tabling the employee’s concerns or feedback to a later time (which—let’s be honest—usually means indefinitely), welcome any resistance, negativity, or arguments.

Ask the employee for more information. By applying HEAR—that is, by honoring the employee through attentive listening, echoing back the concerns, asking questions, and responding with encouragement—you will create a culture of dialogue.

The Gift of Resistance

Although it may not seem like it, resistance really is a gift. It shows you where problems exist in your organization that you weren’t able to see or anticipate—and that’s necessary before you can take steps to solve those issues. So, when you do encounter resistance, respond by asking specific questions:

  • What changes do we need to make?
  • What went wrong last time?
  • What else do you think we should do differently?

Asking probing questions turns the focus from resistance to dialogue, without dismissing the employee’s experience or feeding the negativity. It invites the employee to help solve the problem, which can help him or her feel more engaged in and positive about the organization.

Improving Company Culture One Employee at a Time

In organizations with closed cultures, backbiting, or low morale, employees often don’t have a sense of their own worth to the company. So, it’s important for employee engagement that the company culture be more open, honest, and interactive. When you’re directly interacting with an employee, the person you’re speaking with wants to feel like he or she has a voice.

The level of employee engagement in your organization depends largely on how engaged and empowered your employees feel. So your job as an employee communication professional is to support that voice, for every employee, regardless of job title, function, or location. This is an area where you can make a substantial, measurable difference to your company’s culture.

The HEAR tool gives you practical ways to begin demonstrating to employees that you want to hear what they have to say. By asking probing questions and drawing out more details, you can participate in creating a culture that enables innovation. For more information about the HEAR tool—as well as two complementary tools for knowing what and how to communicate—check out Sean’s Poppulo webinar.

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