Do you consider yourself an open-door manager?
You know the style: Employees are comfortable coming to you with concerns because you won’t shoo them away even though you’re pressed for time.
So when you swing your door open wide, you’re bound to encounter some sticky situations.
How you respond to employees in those first moments when they walk through your door says a lot.
Say the wrong thing and, instead of building confidence, you can leave a person feeling shattered and alone.
So when the moment calls for a deft touch, how do you respond?
Here are six things employees want to hear most when they come to you for help.
1) ‘It’s not the end of the world’
An employee screwed up, and now you need to address it. But acting like the mistake will bring hellfire and ruination on the entire company just makes everything worse.
Obviously you need to do the right thing and be firm, but rationally explaining that most broken things can be fixed goes a long way.
When an employee makes a mistake, keep things in perspective. The employee is already mentally packing up in fear of being demoted or fired.
Employees need to hear they have a chance to make things right. Tell them what they did wrong and the possible consequences. Then give them the opportunity to correct the problem: “What would you suggest we do to fix this?”
Offer to help, but make it clear that the employee should be the one to fix it if possible.
This way, you’ve both diffused the situation and encouraged your employee to take charge.
2) ‘Don’t panic. We can make this work’
You just got out of a big, company-wide meeting, and now your team is huddled in your office looking like deer in headlights.
No one’s talking, but you know they are all thinking the same thing: Where’s this leave us?
In the event of unpleasant news such as layoffs, transfers or a shift in goals, everyone gets a little antsy. Employees are wondering where they fit into the new plans.
Putting a calm face on in times of unknown change is something employees appreciate. (After all, if you’re panicking, what should they be doing?)
So keep calm and tell your employees what you know.
Be honest about what you DON’T know as well; speculating only spreads unfounded rumors. Explain that things should continue business-as-usual, and that you’ll keep them up to speed on things that happen at the higher levels that could affect their lives and your territory.
3) ‘I know you’re frustrated. I’ll do what I can’
Employees often grouse about problems their managers can’t fix. Issues like needing more staff, restrictive workplace policies and what employees feel are “unreasonable” demands can leave even good managers feeling useless if those issues are outside their jurisdiction.
Saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it” (even if this is true), makes you look ineffective, and worse, makes your employees feel trapped.
So hear them out. Let them describe exactly what they’re concerned about. Then, if necessary, take it up the ladder to HR, your boss or another manager to see if a solution or compromise can be reached.
If the rule or policy really can’t be changed, then deliver the bad news diplomatically.
At the least it shows your team that you have their best interests at heart.
4) ‘You’ve got what it takes to solve this problem yourself’
Employees need to be told that once in a while they can take up issues on their own.
Tackling a challenge head-on is a very effective motivational tool.
Say an employee comes to you with a problem that occurs in another department, but it impacts this person directly.
For instance, it could be a regular delivery that never gets brought in from the warehouse on time, and the employee has to stay late. The employee asks you to bring the concern to the warehouse manager.
You could just jot down their request in your notes for the next managers’ meeting, bring it up, and then get back to the employee with a response.
Instead, help the person step up and take the lead.
Suggest they write out exactly why they need the package brought to them sooner, and how it impacts their day. That will help the employee with any face-to-face talking points.
Letting your team tackle a situation in which they have a vested interest allows them to grow, and allows you to be less of a micromanager.
5) ‘There’s room on my team for everyone’
Imagine that! You ended up with two people on your team who don’t get along.
Juggling diverse personalities and work ethics is par for the course. Managers need to be adept at diffusing disagreements and confrontations.
When an employee grumbles about a colleague, first let the person know you simply won’t play favorites, and that your job isn’t to broker agreements between employees or be their babysitter.
You can allow employees to vent if that’s all that’s needed. But for those who demand you “do something about her,” always be clear that the other person is an important member of the team, too.
Challenge the complaining employee to describe the problem and come up with an approach that will solve it.
6) ‘You deserve a lot of credit’
Admit it – it feels great when the CEO says she’s impressed with the results you’ve been turning in lately.
A “job well done!” pat on the back makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
Problem is, your team could be stewing because they didn’t get any credit from the front office. Managers who pass the praise onto their employees earn more respect.
Plus, you know your employees deserve a lot of the credit being heaped on you. You couldn’t succeed without them.
So share it with them. Recognize them – preferably out loud – in staff meetings, in the café over lunch, and, more importantly, directly to the top brass.