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3 Ways to Help Employees Ask the Tough Questions

Posted by EmployeeChannel on 4.6.2017

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Every company has their own vision of acceptable communication between employees and leaders. However, many forward-thinking leaders understand it’s the tough questions and concerns from employees, as well as the company’s response to this feedback, that drives individual and company-wide success.

Take Airbnb, for example. Airbnb’s non-traditional approach uses an interesting nomenclature during feedback sessions to ease tension and help employees open up.

According to the company’s book, The Airbnb Story, after learning employee communication wasn’t as candid as leaders had hoped, co-founder Joe Gebbia, decided to put his tool to the test.

The entire Airbnb team was introduced to the concepts of ‘elephants,’ big truths everyone knows but doesn’t want to talk about, ‘dead fish,’ a grievance someone is having trouble letting go of, and ‘vomit’ sessions, a time when employees are encouraged to air these concerns without risk of judgement or interruption.

While not every company may be willing to implement this strategy, the growing necessity for a culture built on transparency and open communication remains urgent. When employees feel comfortable asking their employers the tough questions, the result is a more engaged, motivated, and productive workforce.  

Here are three ways to help employees feel more comfortable voicing concerns or asking difficult questions:

1. Create an open and honest culture.

Employees who don’t hear leaders openly discussing feedback will be less likely to share their own thoughts with both peers and management. At the same time, creating a judgemental or hostile environment when critical feedback is given will quickly make employees retreat and shut down any honest remarks.

Making open discussions part of your company culture will make addressing uncomfortable questions and concerns feel natural to employees. Train management and employees to offer frequent and immediate feedback to their team in order to set an example.

Training should include how to give critical and informative feedback without offending employees. This should include offering tips on how to fix the issue or appropriately mentoring to get back on track. As employees begin to see management’s willingness to provide constructive feedback, they’ll see why offering their own feedback is crucial to improving their work process.  

2. Bring your team together. 

Separating employees into small groups is a great way to create personalized relationships without being overly intimidating. Allowing your team to meet with direct supervisors or company leaders in small groups to discuss their positive and negative experiences with the company gives them the opportunity to discuss issues that may have been weighing down their motivation and productivity.

Here at EmployeeChannel, we broke up into groups of five and had lunch with our CEO. Dividing into groups gave us a sense of security and lunch felt more casual than sitting in a board room or formal office. This gave our CEO the chance to become closer with his employees, and afterwards, our groups understood his nature was not to criticize or judge our feedback, no matter what type we offered.

Managers or company leaders should start the conversation in a comfortable setting, whether it’s over a lunch, coffee, or even a quick snack. Most importantly, leaders should let employees take the reigns as the meeting progresses. Not all employees will be comfortable opening up, so try directing specific questions to employees to encourage them to offer their own thoughts and opinions.

Before the meeting is over, explain that your team is always welcome to come and discuss any topics of concern or questions at any time. Even if you’ve expressed this multiple times before, reiterating it after a personal meeting will be more impactful.

3. Leave room for anonymity.

Most companies can quickly point out the few employees who aren’t afraid to speak up and share their thoughts. However, it’s likely there’s a higher number of people on your team who struggle with employee communication.

To help your more timid staff members open up, send out anonymous surveys  to help push employee communication forward. While anonymous surveys aren’t ideal for sensitive topics, like harassment claims or accusations, they’re great for encouraging employees to express concerns about communication, feedback, benefits, or management styles.

After you’ve assessed the results, begin making changes throughout your company based on some of the responses. When employees see that management is truly invested in their honest feedback and puts in the effort to help conditions improve, the culture will naturally begin to change to a very open, welcoming environment.

Topics: employee experience, employee communication, employee feedback

Human Resources Today