Bosses don’t know everything. Even the most empathetic leaders need feedback to understand the specific challenges their employees face. Unfortunately, plenty of workers — especially those new to the workforce — don’t feel safe being vocal. When they have ideas to contribute, they hesitate to share them; after all, they don’t want to risk potential repercussions.
Ultimately, this environment leads to erosion of communication between team members and even entire companies. People assume their suggestions won’t be met by someone who appreciates their feedback, so concerns remain unspoken. At the same time, each unnoted issue can cost businesses $7,500 per incident, on average. Over time, a human disconnect and financial draining system develops, creating a gap that grows larger each year. The only way to bridge the chasm if you’re not a top dog? Speak up.
Not surprisingly, workers seldom take that route. A VitalSmarts study found that only 1 percent of respondents were willing to break the mold; roughly three out of 10 cited a negative organization as the reason for their silence. Anyone who’s seen a colleague punished for being honest knows how quickly open dialogue can shut down; thus, it can be tough to become the turtle willing to stick its neck out.
Ironically, this is exactly the reason you need to take control of the situation and be the one to buck the “silent treatment.” Despite surveys, open-door policies, one-on-one meetings, brainstorming sessions, and other planned events, leaders depend on the voices of proactive, loyal employees — even if they don’t realize it. No company succeeds if its people stop managing up and regularly sharing ideas; talented performers have jumped ship for far less important reasons.
For instance, take a lesson from our company’s business development manager: Like an assertive jet pilot, he consistently keeps himself on my radar. Together, we’ve discussed ways to make our conversations more effective so they focus on productivity. Without his willingness to tell me what I don’t know, our organization would suffer.
Learning to ‘Manage Up’
Whether you’re an extrovert, an introvert, or just someone who’s tired of (and stressed by) holding everything in, you owe it to yourself and your company to find your voice. By following a few guidelines, you can confidently bring up issues with your supervisor — and feel better about your job altogether — without losing sleep:
1. Ready to complain? Take a different tactic.
You might have a list of criticisms or grievances; that’s understandable. However, before you blow up in your meeting, plan to stay in control. Clarify each pain point ahead of time by writing it down. Often, employees lump natural job stressors with programmatic or organizational issues. Divvy them up, and only speak of the latter.
2. Articulate your concerns in a solution-oriented way.
Forget the idea of merely bringing issues to the table. Go a step further and offer solutions, too. Don’t assume your role is to dump concerns onto your corporate leaders and walk away. Instead, have the poise to lean on your expertise and provide solutions. Not only will this show your self-assurance, but it will also help your employer. When researchers studied a restaurant chain in which leadership actively listened to managers and implemented their suggestions, they discovered a 32 percent decrease in turnover and savings of no less than $1.6 million.
3. Commiserate sparingly with peers.
Everyone knows the Negative Neds or Nellies in the office. Their pessimism spreads like cancer, killing productivity and morale. And their professional reputation? Forget it. If you’re going to become a voice to upper management, temper your desire to vent all the time. Although griping makes sense from time to time — and can even be productive under the right circumstances — it doesn’t solve anything. Rather than whine incessantly, allow yourself a bit of kvetching and then move on to developing a viable result.
4. Leverage anonymous feedback.
If you’re hesitant to reveal your identity by marching into your supervisor’s domain, you have a less direct way to make yourself heard. Most companies offer a suggestion box, allowing you to provide the same information you would face to face in written form. You can also write a review on Glassdoor to give your feedback anonymously. Although it’s not as productive as having a direct conversation, you’ll still have a say. Be sure to avoid anger with your words; write concisely and stick to facts for optimum results.
Yes, it’s tough to stand out when others hold their tongues; still, saying nothing will only dampen your business’s effectiveness and keep you from achieving your own objectives. Take charge of your career by moving out of your comfort zone. Your co-workers — and boss — might thank you for your candor.
Tony Delmercado is the COO at Hawke Media, passionately curious entrepreneur, and all-around solid dude. He enjoys building businesses, playing golf, improving his Krav Maga and jiujitsu game, writing, studying business tax loopholes, and eating Mexican food. He spends his weekends at the T&A Bungalow in Santa Monica hanging with his wife, Anthea; his sons, Onyx and Fox; and his dog, Naz.
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