Conversations are critical to the success of employee engagement. To truly engage your employees, it is not only important to convey messages out to the team, but also to hear and actively listen to what team members are hearing and seeing in the field. Our research has found that while leaders spend a considerable amount of time focusing on the outgoing messages, followers are just as concerned, if not more concerned, about how well their leaders listen. Communication must be a two-way street to be effective, and today, in the Covid-19 era, actively listening is more crucial than ever.

Leaders must be able to talk with employees, not just to employees.  Incoming communication is just as important as outgoing messaging.  Incoming conversations must be heard through active listening.  Listening is not just hearing what someone is saying, it is validating, reiterating, and responding to what is being conveyed in the message. Active listening does so much more than just build an environment conducive to positive workplace relationships. It provides opportunities to have crucial conversations that can be pivotal to leadership success and to organizational success. Further, active listening is not about supporting the other’s position, it is about supporting what is said, verbally and nonverbally, so that a deeper conversation can ensue. 

Effective communication happens in a variety of ways, from meetings where messaging is sent top down, to blogs, wikis and other social media avenues (internally and externally), to smaller divisional meetings with open communication opportunities, just to name a few. One of the most effective ways to engage employees and have open, honest, and authentic communication is to use the very common technique of management by walking around (MBWA).  Unfortunately MBWA is difficult, if not impossible, for many to do in the current pandemic crisis. So many of the current conversations are taking place over online video and audio conferencing platforms.  As a result, it is essential to read the nonverbal cues of your team members, including watching the eyes and the facial expressions, listening to the tone of voice, monitoring the engagement in the conversation at hand, and other visual and auditory cues (note… eye-rolling and heavy sighs are real problems folks!).  It is vital that you as the leader hone your skills on how to “read” your audience through video and audio conferencing.  

Be sure to not just be a “talking head” prepared to give your message and your message alone. It is more critical than ever to engage in a dialogue, not a monologue! Team members will have difficulty trusting a leader who does not authentically let them speak out. A leader must be able to embrace both the good and the bad in a true crucial conversation. Allow for extra time and extra calls to ensure you are getting to the heart and soul of how your team members are dealing with the pandemic crisis. Ask each team member how they are holding up, not just professionally, but personally.  The most important factor is to listen to their answer!