In this episode of Relationships at Work, communications and leadership nerd (and host) Russel Lolacher asks us to see one word answers as a red flag for employee disengagement.
Russel tells the story of how employees and colleagues using one word answers to questions and requests can be a sign of a cracked relationship. And the opportunity it offers leaders to proactively investigate the issue and create a safe space to the disengagement together.
Curiosity, empathy and proactive leadership are key in mending a broken relationship, we just have to be ready to listen to the signs we're in one. Russel offers suggestions on how we can take steps to rebuild those relationships at work.
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Want to know how our connection is with our colleagues, coworkers, employees? Check out how many words they use when we ask them questions.
How is the project going? Fine.
Can you look up that file and print it off before 2pm? Ok.
For next time, could you make sure you include these 3 bullets? Gotcha.
Your work needs to be delivered faster. K.
Sure. Ok. Gotcha. K. Thanks.
If it happens on occasion during a busy time, that can be understood. People are juggling LOTS of priorities and are probably overwhelmed.
But if it’s from those employees that you’re not regulary hearing from. Those that don’t ask question. Don’t offer ideas or alternatives. Don’t share their expertise. Don’t push back around their boundaries… those one word answers should be seen as a red flag.
If you’re looking for a sign in how our employee relationships are going… Check out how many words they use when they respond to questions or suggestions. Repeatedly using one word = not good.
Usually when someone feels undervalued, unheard, under-appreciated, they'll use as few words as possible to get out of any interaction with those they feel are the source or contribution to that unease.
That one word is their way of spending as little time and effort as possible in that work relationship. K. Yep. Sure. Is the absolute minimum effort they need to provide to get out of an interaction they don’t want to be in.
That one word, is communicating a lot. It’s telling us the relationship is fractured.
Whether you want to call it quiet quitting, unengaged, disinterested, checking out, etc., it's one of the signs of a cracked connection.
So as leaders, we have to be proactive in mending that disconnection. As I’ve said before in a previous episode, passive leadership isn’t leadership.
In this instance, we’re being quietly (with one word) being called to lead.
If you want to fix this fracture, start with…
1. Open and Empathetic Communication: Initiate a conversation with the employee in a private and comfortable setting. Approach the conversation with empathy and active listening. Encourage them to share their thoughts, concerns, and feelings without fear of judgment. Create an open space where they feel safe discussing both work-related issues and personal challenges. Your genuine interest in their well-being can help them feel valued and understood.
2. Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular one-on-one check-ins with the employee. These meetings should not solely focus on work tasks but should also provide an opportunity for them to share their progress, challenges, and any support they may need. Use these check-ins to demonstrate your commitment to their growth and development, as well as your willingness to provide guidance and assistance when necessary.
Listen, Listen again, and prove you listened with regular connections.
Pro Tip: Don’t provide feedback or recognition right away. When an employee doesn’t have a high opinion of their leader, that information won’t mean much.
Focus on fixing the relationship first. Prioritize listening first. This is where servant leadership is vital.
So take those one word answers for what they are... a sign that we need to demonstrate what leadership looks like for that employee and for the organization.