4 questions and phrases to use regularly

You know that communicating regularly with your employees is key to guiding and leading them to perform to the best of their ability, but when you and your employees are juggling multiple tasks, projects and priorities, it can be too easy to focus on the work employees are doing in the here and now, while glossing over critical conversations that will help you understand what they think, feel and care about professionally.

Here are four questions and phrases all managers should include in employee conversations to deepen your relationships.

1. “Tell me.”

Research on effective negotiation techniques reveals that the words “tell me” make it easier to understand another person’s point of view, and invite the opportunity to learn more about the dynamics of any situation, free of judgment or assumptions.

When you lead employee conversations with “tell me more about the situation” or “tell me what you need,” you give your staff free reign to share their honest opinion and point of view, in as much or as little detail as they want to include, and the power to present a situation that is positive, or a problem to be solved. The words “tell me” inherently mean there is no right or wrong answer.

As a manager, these words can be one of the most effective ways to gather perspectives from a number of employees, while learning more about what they consider important.

2. “You make a difference to this team/company.”

Lack of employee praise and recognition is the reason that half of all employees in the United States seek out new job opportunities, according to one Gallup study. But, delivery of consistent and genuine praise is also an area you can easily control, regardless of the rewards structure your human resources department has in place.

To deliver praise in a way that is genuine and specific to each employee, pay attention to the unique attributes and contributions each member of your team brings to their role, the team and the workplace overall. Deliver specific praise that communicates you see and acknowledge how important their contributions are, and why and how they’ve uniquely influenced the dynamic or outcome of a project, interaction or a situation for the better.

Whether an employee has led a cross-functional team to bring a complex project to fruition on time or under budget, or simply always brings a positive attitude that makes the team function better, acknowledge the work your employees do, and tell them exactly how the skills, insights and energy they bring to the workplace matter.

Every job is actually performed by two people — the employee who is paid to accomplish results and the manager who is paid to ensure that this happens. So when staff members become unproductive, unmotivated or disruptive, a manager’s first thought should be, “How do I get things back on track?”

3. “What can we as a company/team do better?”

Your employees likely have a “front row seat” to processes, challenges and areas that are lacking in efficacy that you simply don’t have as a manager. They are your biggest asset when it comes to spotting opportunities to improve, and addressing small issues before they mushroom into much larger hurdles. Make it a point to regularly ask your employees what’s not working or what they’d improve if they owned the company.

Not only will you gain more visibility into what’s happening behind the scenes, you send the message that employee viewpoints beyond task completion are not only welcome, but critically important.

4. “What goal is most important to you right now?”

Employee goal-setting should be a collaborative process that aligns your employee’s strengths, interests and longer-term career pursuits with company and team priorities.

As your employees develop professionally and personally, their interests and goals will likely change. You can have a significant impact on employee retention, motivation and development by having ongoing conversations with your employees about the goals they are working towards, how you can support their success, and what they’d like to progress to next.

When employees accomplish their goals, you’ll be better prepared to assign work that continues their positive momentum, and keeps them engaged and interested.

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