As employers, we spend a lot of time in in-person meetings and having calls with our team. It’s common for those type of meetings to begin with “How are you doing?” When we ask that question, however, are we really listening to the person’s response? All too often it’s easy to ask that question out of habit and not actually listen to the individual’s response. And all too often, a person will respond with an “I’m ok,” or “I’m good” or “living the dream” out of habit.
In this common scenario, their response won’t always accurately reflect how the individual is really doing. That’s why it’s important that we as leaders are really listening to those around us. What’s the tone of their response? Is the response notably different from their normal responses? What does it mean if someone chooses not to respond? During one-to-one meetings or private conversations, I would encourage employers to ask, “What do you mean by ok?” the next time they listen and hear that response. Asking this question shows you’re listening, shows you care and it provides an invitation for more conversation.
Now let’s turn this around for a moment. How and why do you choose to respond to someone when they ask you how you’re doing? When and why do you choose to be vulnerable and answer truthfully? I assume that we tend to answer this question most truthfully when we know the person who asks truly wants to know, and that we can trust their confidentiality.
We’ve all heard “everything starts at the top” when it comes to culture. As a leader, how are you interacting with your employees? When you greet your team in the office or on jobsites, do they feel comfortable telling you how they’re really doing? Are you really listening to what they might be trying to tell you? Do your employees believe you care, and they can trust you?
When you’re leading your company, you don’t have a lot of free time and you usually have hundreds (if not more) different thoughts swirling around in your mind, but it is so important that we take the time to listen; focus on your employees (and not just job issues). Your employees will be grateful for your concern about their welfare, and they will know that you care about them as an individual (and not just as an employee). Once I began adopting this approach, I learned a lot more about the concerns and desires of our company’s employees. I also learned to appreciate each of them more as individuals and fellow employees.
And lastly, to drive this all home, I’d like to share a story where listening and allowing myself to be vulnerable made a difference. While flying to a speaking engagement a few years ago, the passenger next to me asked me where I was headed. I told him my destination and that I was delivering a presentation. Later in the flight, as I was reviewing my PowerPoint slides, the passenger asked me what I was speaking on.
Once I told him I’m a suicide loss survivor and am speaking about suicide prevention, he proceeded to tell me about losing his son to suicide and his difficult grief journey. He ended the story by saying he had been unable to tell this to anyone before, but he felt comfortable telling me. That conversation would never have happened had I not initially been willing to be vulnerable by sharing my loss.
When it comes to suicide prevention and mental health, the littlest things can make the biggest impact and we may never know it. For an industry that faces an unsettling number of suicide deaths and poor mental health, it is important for industry leaders to really listen, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, and be willing to have open conversations with those around them.