Ways to Avoid Scaring Employees

by Granville Triumph

In a previous post I wrote about the book, SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, by Christine Comaford, who contends that most leaders do and say things that scare their employees. When leaders do so they send employees into their “Critter State” where every decision they make is driven by fear. Here are some of the techniques Comaford recommends for empowering employees and building strong teams.

Don’t just give employees solutions — help them solve problems themselves. When we engage them in solving problems themselves, we create a sense of safety, belonging and mattering — which Comaford says are the three things humans crave most (after basic needs like food and shelter are met). And of course, we help them develop a sense of ownership that will serve them — and the company — well.

Conduct short, high-energy meetings that have a clear agenda. Ideally, you should focus on only enough information-sharing in order to solicit requests from parties who need something and promises from parties who will fill that need.

Establish rapport before giving feedback. Comaford has a wealth of neuroscience tactics for helping leaders get inside their employees’ heads and truly establish rapport. Most of them are too complex to convey in a short article, but here are three “shortcut” phrases that help people feel safe enough to shift out of their Critter State:

  1. “What if…”: When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious — not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering. This enables someone to brainstorm more easily with you.
  2. “I need your help.”: We call this a dom-sub swap, because when the dominant person uses it, they are enrolling the subordinate person and asking them to rise up and swap roles. This is an especially effective phrase when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.
  3. “Would it be helpful if…”: When someone is stuck in their Critter State and spinning or unable to move forward, offering up a solution will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.

Focus on outcomes. Being outcome-focused feels very different, she explains. It’s empowering and energizing and fills you with confidence. It firmly places you in your Smart State, where possibility, choice, innovation, love and higher consciousness are abundant.

Frame “change” in a positive way. According to Rodger Bailey’s groundbreaking work on Meta Programs in the workplace, 65 percent of Americans can tolerate change only if it is couched in a specific context. That context is “Sameness with Exception,” says Comaford. What does this mean? Essentially, it means leaders need to present the “change” as merely an improvement to what we are already doing: The bad stuff is being removed, and good stuff is being added.

Building strong teams is an essential part of success in business. I believe that by using these techniques we can help everyone work together for the good of the organization.

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