Most leaders will tell you that they want input from their people. For example, when leaders present an idea, it is not uncommon to end with, “Let me know what you think.” So, if no one offers input, it is only natural to assume that your people agree with you, right? Well, maybe. Or maybe you shut the door in their face.
As a leader, your words carry more weight. Whether you intend them to or not, your ideas, your suggestions, your words can be seen as a “declaration” by your people. Declarations close doors. Even if you feel you are simply offering an option for consideration, if the discussion seems to wind down shortly thereafter, you may have just closed the door on further conversation.
So how do you keep the door to discussion open, or re-open one that has inadvertently been closed? Questions. Questions open doors.
Jumping back to the opening paragraph, “Let me know what you think” is not a question. As a leader, you may think you have asked for feedback, but those words could also be perceived by all but the most bold among your staff as a closing statement. So how do you make sure (assuming you really do want to hear what people are thinking) that you keep the feedback door open?
1. You unlock the door by giving permission
. . . I want to hear your perspective on this
. . . You are the expert in this area
. . . I need your best thinking to make sure we arrive at the best solution
. . . Play devil’s advocate for me
There are a whole host of ways that you can convey to your staff, “no really, I want to hear your honest opinion.” If your staff seem reluctant to offer opinions that may be different from your own, be intentional in giving them permission to offer their perspectives.
2. You open the door by asking questions
. . . What have we overlooked?
. . . If you were to change one thing, what would it be?
. . . How do you think our (customers/front line staff/stakeholders) will react?
. . . How else could we accomplish our goal?
The more specific your questions, the greater likelihood you will get the kind of detailed feedback that will help fine-tune your decision-making.
Most leaders truly do want to hear what their people think. Sometimes we just don’t realize that, the weight of our words — our position —discourages people from sharing their best thinking. The best way to counteract that?
Don’t close the door.