by Matt Alderton | January 15, 2019
As a manager, your most important asset, it could be argued, is your ears. That's because your ability to lead hinges on your ability to listen. This is especially true when it comes to problem solving, says author Liz Kislik. In a recent article for, she points out that managers can't solve problems unless they know about them -- and that managers won't know about them unless they know how to listen to their employees.

"Plenty of leaders say they offer an 'open door policy' to encourage employees to bring them problems or concerns. Many of these leaders also ask that employees voicing concerns come prepared with solutions in order to take responsibility for the problem rather than just 'dump' or 'vent,'" Kislik says. "But employees in those scenarios may get the idea that it's unacceptable to raise problems in the business if they don't know how to fix them. In fact, in a study of a phenomenon they dubbed 'employee silence,' professors from New York University's Stern School of Business demonstrated that 85 percent of their respondents felt they couldn't raise important issues to their management at all."

If your business from "employee silence," you need to find a better way to hear your employees out.

Start by demonstrating to employees that you understand the importance of listening to them. "Emphasize that your openness isn't because you're nice or merely want to placate them," Kislik says. "Instead, explain that you recognize the downside of not understanding employees' opinions or acknowledging the risks of having a disengaged workforce, i.e., high turnover."

Even more important than telling employees that you'll listen, however? Showing them that you do.

"Refer to times when you took someone's opinion and were able to improve a situation," Kislik concludes. "Be explicit, so that the participants and other employees can tell you mean it. You could say something like, 'Once Sally told me what was going on, it got me thinking. So I reevaluated that supplier's performance, and asked them to improve their level of service. Now we've got a better deal.'"

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