'Working Wounded': Curing Conversation

DEAR WOUNDED: I'm a new supervisor and I get the sense that people only tell me what they think I want to hear. What can I do to hear what they really think?

ANSWER: I was traveling in France and needed a cash machine. I stopped one person and asked him if he spoke English. He nodded his head yes. I then asked him if he knew where the nearest ATM was. Yes, he replied. OK, you can probably see where this is going -- the guy couldn't speak English anymore than I could speak French, but it took me a long time to figure that out.

Unfortunately many of our conversations at work are like this. We mistake a monologue for actual conversation. I've listed a series of questions you can ask below to help you create better dialogues at work. For more, check out "Managing for Excellence" by Moi Ali, et. al. (DK, 2001).

When you're evaluating your own conversations, it is helpful to ask:

How do you feel that you did? Often we jump right in to tell people what we think of their performance. A better place to start is the Dr. Phil question, "So how is this working for you?" Ask them. You may be surprised by how they have good reasons for what they're doing. Or you may be shocked by how deluded they are. Either way it's helpful to see their performance through their eyes.

Is there anything that you would change if you had it over to do again? We often rob the person of the most important part of any performance, the chance to learn from their experiences.

How are customers reacting? This is ultimately where the rubber meets the road in business. Yet many of us don't take the time to take the pulse of our customers nearly enough. Ask for specific comments from specific customers.

Are you aware of any negative reactions? There is a tendency in many employees to only report good news. It is important to find out what is really going on. In this case it is important to not only ask the question, but to be careful to not beat the person up who tells you potentially negative information.

How do you feel about what is going on? Businessmen and women love to live in the land of thoughts. Feelings, on the other hand, can be scary and intimidating. But take the time to ask about feelings and you just might get a much more accurate gauge of what's really going on.

Is there anything that I can do to help? The ultimate question from any boss. Show your people that you are willing to pitch in to help. Don't go sleepwalking through your workday, many of your fears can be addressed, but only if you make the commitment to deal with them.

Lily Tomlin once wished that she could pair up all the people who walk down the street talking to themselves. She thought it would be nice to have them appear to be having a conversation. Avoid this at work by using the strategies above to have a real dialogue with the people you work with.

We'd like to hear your strategy for creating a dialogue with someone you work with. I'll give an autographed copy of "Working Wounded: Advice that adds insight to injury" (Warner, 2000) to the best submission. Send your entry, name & address via: http://workingwounded.com or via e-mail: bob@workingwounded.com. Entries must be received by Wednesday (Aug. 17).

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent workingwounded.com/ABCnews.com online ballot:
How would you rate your ability to remember people's names?

       Top notch, 8.3 percent
       Average, 45.1 percent
       What was the question?, 46.5 percent

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