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Now Hear This

The best managers read children’s books!

By Tatiana Chalkidou

Anyone looking for advice on how to be a better manager should consult books on effective parenting. Those who have children may already have these reference materials lying around or lining the bookshelves of their home office. And literature related to dog training may be an alternative, as it too teaches some valuable lessons. To be clear, this is not to suggest anyone treat colleagues or employees like children or dogs! Rather, these materials teach the importance of modifying one’s own behavior to improve communication, and to ensure that words and actions send a clear and consistent message.

It is a manager’s responsibility to provide information and guidance to a team. One of the most important aspects of effective communication is an open reception to employees. Consider the level of approachability you project as a manager. Below are three questions to determine whether you need to alter your managerial style:

  1. When I’m approached, what does my demeanor say?

In being a manager (much like being a parent), one may be completely absorbed in a specific task whenever an employee or colleague approaches. One thing is certain--if you keep typing, writing, or continuing any activity without looking up, you send a strong signal that the task is more important. Stop what you are doing and make eye contact; this communicates two things: “I am listening” and “I am open to communication.” The tone of your voice sends important information at this sensitive time. A sigh when replying to a question that needs attention sends the message: “Oh, boy, not again! That is another interruption!” Even if you are doing something that honestly is more important, try not to show it.

2. Am I actively listening to what is being said?

The most powerful way to increase your influence on others on a daily basis--both at home and in the workplace--is to listen effectively and genuinely. Like other behavior alterations, this one can be controlled. Nothing will increase your ability to influence others more powerfully than improving listening skills. Unfortunately, instead of actively listening, many people “listen ahead,” jumping to conclusions while someone is still talking. Even when frustrated by an employee who simply will not open up, communicating with non-communicators is difficult. Try not to label a person as shy or uncooperative since this actually limits your ability to communicate with these individuals. Instead, determine the optimal way to encourage them, for example, by soliciting their thoughts.

3. Does my body language match my intention?

Effective communication involves not only understanding what you are trying to communicate verbally and with body language, but acknowledging and bringing forth your own intentions. Beyond listening with focused attention, mirror your posture in a one-to-one conversation with that of the other person. Also, try mirroring the person’s style of speaking; if he or she tends to use visual language (e.g., “I see what you mean”), use the same approach by employing similar metaphors when speaking. Simply put, being heard and understood is a strong and basic human need that is rarely met; shaping verbal and non-verbal communication to match another person’s sends a signal that validates the feelings.

Peers and employees are more prone to open up if they feel they have been “heard.” You must truly listen and give necessary attention to what others say. Giving others the gift of attention not only is more congenial, but may provide insight about the person or the issue at hand. If nothing else, it allows more time to think and consider what is being said. Strive for a real curiosity about the other person’s perspective. Listen intently, force yourself to slow down, and use what the parenting books call “active listening.” Being a dynamic leader requires understanding a situation, the people involved, and the effect on everyone involved. Great parenting and effective dog-training books teach one thing--even at the most basic levels of communication, genuine understanding and communication provide the best results.

Dr. Tatiana Chalkidou is a post-doctoral fellow at Oklahoma State University, working in different park-management projects. She holds a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University in Health, Leisure, and Human Performance, a M.BA. and a M.Sc. in Human Resources Management and Development from University of Leicester in the UK, and a B.S. in Physical Education and Sport Science from University of Athens, Greece. She can be reached via email at tat.chalkidou@okstate.edu .

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