Simple conversation can overcome many of the barriers that inevitably exist in the manager-employee relationship because there is something very democratic about exchanging views face-to-face.
That's why managers who enjoy a dialog relationship with their subordinates tend to be more successful than those who don't.
There are several reasons for this. Dialog removes the adversarial relationship that is frequently an unavoidable part of the employee-boss situation. People are naturally more responsive to communications issued at the conversational level than to those issued as The Word From Above. Finally, dialog humanizes the work environment and creates rapport—two important morale considerations.
Granted, you can't always carry on dialogs with your people. There are deadlines to be met. Secrecy must sometimes be maintained. Some subjects simply do not warrant deep discussion.
Yet, whether they realize it or not, people are more responsive to managers who take the time to talk with them than to those who stick to strictly business relationships.
How can you tell whether or not you enjoy a dialog relationship with those reporting to you?
Their attitudes and behavior are two reliable clues to what they think of your dialog skills. For example:
Do your people frequently seem to misunderstand you or say that you instructed them to do something in a certain way that you can't remember recommending? If so, chances are you are not organizing your thoughts carefully enough before speaking.
Are they relaxed when they talk to you, or do they seem anxious to get away? A boss who knows how to put others at ease creates the right atmosphere for a useful dialog.
Do your people keep you up-to-date on how their work is progressing and bring important problems to you for guidance? If they do, you enjoy their trust.
Do you get questions when you present new information or instructions? If you do, it's a good sign, for it means you've stimulated others' thinking and they feel they don't have to pretend instant comprehension to get your respect.
Some managers, who recognize that their dialog skills are weak, nevertheless consider improvement in this area a low priority item. "I'm not in a popularity contest, I just want to get the work out," is a typical reaction.
Yet, where there is dialog, the work tends to get out—and it is often superior in quality.
But don't expect miracles. If you have neglected your dialog skills, suddenly opening up before your people will not turn the tide overnight. It takes constant encouragement to get people to open up and speak out.
•Solve your own work problems first. Many managers who have trouble with the "people" part of their jobs are honestly overloaded with other matters that require attention. They need to analyze their own workload and delegate what they can to give themselves more time for a creative relationship with their people.
•Conceal your impatience. It may not always be easy to hold a discussion with someone who appears somewhat dense or seems to discuss matters that are old hat. Think, though, of how successful doctors give each patient a feeling that his symptoms are uniquely interesting even though they have heard them all hundreds of times before. Sometimes, a manager must be a bit of an actor.
•Make a conscious effort. Building a dialog means making a conscious effort to ask for a response, to encourage questions, to arrange your schedule so that people know they can get back to you when something is important to them. For some managers, it may also mean working to change the tone they take in speaking to subordinates or erasing a frown that comes too easily and too often, or controlling gestures that make others feel they are being bothersome.