CommsMasters Blog

6 Ways to Engage/Disengage Your People

By Tor Justad >>

Having been employed in a number of roles in several different sectors over the years, I've naturally come up against a wide range of bosses – the good, the bad and the ugly (some of them all three).

Therefore, as a team member (or 'follower') I have some insight into which traits and behaviours engage or disengage me and my fellow employees from our leaders. Of course these'll be different for everyone, but – needless to say – all of mine involve communication. Here are my personal Top 3 for each category:

Top 3 Traits That Engage

1. Listening

The importance of this one is absolutely paramount. If I feel that I'm not being listened too – and, crucially, understood – then I will become totally disengaged from what I am being told/asked to do by my boss.

The best managers listen to understand. This goes above and beyond ‘active listening’ where the listener is still judging the other person's words based on their own preconceptions – putting their own spin on what's being said, rather than trying to really understand their employees' motives and feelings.

2. Empathy

Which brings us neatly onto number 2, closely related to the previous point. Empathy is a widely misunderstood concept, with many treating it as synonymous with sympathy or understanding.

Empathy is much more than this – the first step is to fully understand the other person’s view; the second, far more important, step is to examine that view as if you were the other person. This means not just ‘putting yourself in their shoes’ (as empathy is often described) but putting yourself in their brain – imagining how the world is viewed through their eyes and taking into account their specific needs, motivations and ways of working.

This isn’t easy by any means – to truly empathise you need to know the other individual well, and even then it’s very difficult for us as human beings to totally disconnect ourselves from our own preconceived notions of how to think and feel. But it is possible with time and practice!

3. Clear focus and direction

Personally, I am most engaged when the manager has a clear focus and direction which they pass on to me. Others may differ on this one – some people like to be given a vague brief, so that they can shape a project in their own way and go in the direction they please.

I’m all for a manager including their reports in decision-making and objective-setting processes. But the real focus and drive of the business have to come from the top – if the boss can’t see a clear course forwards, how can they expect their team to engage with business goals?

Top 3 Traits That Disengage

1. ‘Management speak’ / Waffle / BS

‘Management speak’ or ‘business BS’ – all those pointless, meaningless phrases that bad managers churn out at an alarming rate – are guaranteed to disengage.

Heather touches on this in her blog about David Brent and there’s a brilliant article by Ross McCammon in Entrepreneur Magazine on the subject of business BS. The latter includes a sidebar entitled ‘A Garden of Meaningless Responses’ with such gems as:

  • “At the end of the day we both want the same thing.”
  • “We’re reaching out...”
  • “We’re touching base…”
  • “We’re going forward…”
  • “We’re reaching out and touching base and going forward.”

I once had a manager who spent all his time making Brent-style ‘witticisms’ – occasionally funny, but mainly cringe-making and ultimately leading to my utter disengagement from almost anything he had to say.

2. “I’m just one of the guys.”

Quite closely related to the point above, as David Brent is again a great (awful?) example of this. We’ve all come across this boss – the manager who’s just “one of the guys” / is “down with the kids” etc. etc. Managers everywhere, please take note – you are not the same as us. You are a leader of people and should act as such.

This boss will probably not get much work done due to time spent ‘engaging’ (i.e. annoying) his team, and almost certainly believes that the Scissor Sisters are at the cutting-edge of the contemporary music scene.

3. Insincerity

Just as authenticity and trust would rank highly on the list of things that do engage, insincerity and lack of trust are certain to disengage.

There's nothing worse than a manager who isn't honest and transparent in their conduct. What some seem to forget is that employees can usually tell. In the vast majority of cases, managers will display any number of ‘tells’ when they're not being upfront with you – through body language, tone of voice and even simply the words spoken (when you know them to be false).

Leaders – trust your employees with information, even the sensitive stuff, and they will trust you right back. And what's more, they'll engage with you and work harder as a result.

As a leader or an employee, what are your top ‘dos & don'ts’ for enagement? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @CommsMasters


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