15 Effective Ways To Get Employees To Open Up During One-On-Ones

Originally published by Forbes.com

Loren Margolis, Founder & Managing Director, Training & Leadership Success

decorative image

Ideally, one-on-one meetings are great opportunities for both employees and leaders to confidentially discuss issues that affect their work. However, some people don’t feel comfortable opening up about problems during one-on-one meetings with their managers or other company leaders. Unfortunately, when workplace issues are not identified, situations can deteriorate to the point where damage is done to both the team’s morale and the company’s bottom line.

Below, 15 Forbes Coaches Council members outline direct and indirect tactics leaders can use to encourage employees to open up and share their thoughts frankly and candidly during one-on-ones. Read on to learn how to help employees feel safe bringing their concerns to the forefront so that issues impacting their job satisfaction, performance or productivity can be effectively addressed.

1. Show Authenticity, Vulnerability And Empathy
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, to quote Teddy Roosevelt. As a leader, show authenticity, vulnerability and empathy before seeking acceptance by showing how smart you are. Ask for feedback, and show humility in handling it. People need to experience that it’s not only safe to speak up, but in fact appreciated and welcome. Finally, learn and teach how to give feedback professionally. – Thomas Gelmi, Movadis AG

2. Model The Behavior You Want To See
Share with employees how you acknowledge your own concerns and critique without getting stuck there, and focus on constructive actions that use collaborative problem-solving and leverage helpful colleagues. Show your employees you’re there to listen and empathize and that you believe in their capacity to turn dissatisfaction into satisfaction. – Steve Salee, Wildfire Strategies

3. Ask Employees For Ideas To Implement
Employees will open up when they feel safe to do so. Creating such an environment takes time and examples demonstrating that it can be done without repercussions or disadvantages for the feedback-giver. Providing feedback to a supervisor or leader takes courage. Instead, the leader might want to reframe this by asking for ideas they can implement to support performance, satisfaction and productivity. – Ute Franzen-Waschke, Business English & Culture

4. Develop Approaches For Unplanned Interactions
Leaders have a tendency to slip into task mode when working remotely, leading to decreased connection and less cohesive relationships within teams. Are you spending enough time building relationships and fostering psychological safety? Get intentional about being unintentional by coming up with approaches for unplanned interactions that can work in person, remotely and in a hybrid work environment. – Elisa Mallis, Center for Creative Leadership

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

5. Cultivate An Open, Problem-Solving Culture
From each teammate’s hiring, the leader should let it be known that they want to build a team of people who feel safe to voice their concerns without the risk of judgment or retaliation. At the same time, the leader can develop a culture in which employees can bring a problem forward and be part of the solution. Asking for employees’ opinions on how to solve problems will help leaders develop responsible and open employees. – Maria Ines Moran, Action Coach

6. Prioritize Collaboration Over Individual Success
The creation of a culture that embraces feedback and rewards transparency and communication often benefits from prioritizing collaboration over individual contributions and successes. By minimizing the place for drama or ego, thoughts can be shared freely in the spirit of improvement and with an assumption of positive intent. – Christy Charise, Strategic Advisor

7. Create A Culture That Values Everyone’s Opinion
Candid feedback about the internal employee experience is critical to organizational growth. But how can managers and leaders elicit honest feedback from employees? Create a culture that values everyone’s opinion regardless of seniority. Then, reinforce transparency and improve organization-wide communication with personalized coaching. – Jonathan Passmore, CoachHub

8. Name Your Intent, Build Trust And Model Transparency
Focus on three things: naming your intent, building trust and being the change you want to see in others. Be clear about your intention to generate more honest feedback and why you feel this is important to discuss. Ask employees what they need to feel safe and comfortable in sharing this feedback and demonstrate how valued their feedback is when shared. Finally, role model what honest and transparent sharing can be. – Saba Hasanie, OSC Leadership Performance

9. Listen To Learn What Motivates Each Employee
It takes time and action to build trust and a psychologically safe environment. Show employees that they are valued, heard and respected. This will look different for each employee, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Asking questions to understand and truly listening are two great ways to learn what motivates each employee. – Kristy Busija, Next Conversation Coaching, LLC

10. Set A Psychologically Safe Example And Tone
Psychological safety is the key. Your employees learn not from what you say but from what you do. Do you forgive mistakes if learning is derived? Do you move forward after conflict and not carry a grudge? Do you allow others to speak, or do you only love the sound of your own voice? Psychological safety is a function of several healthy and easy workplace practices, but its power is amazingly constructive. – Agata Dulnik, Ph.D., Global Leadership Experts

11. Be Sincere, Reliable, Competent And Caring
The question is, how do you create a psychologically safe environment with low fear and high trust? It starts with building trust through your actions and ensuring your people feel you are sincere, reliable and competent and that you care about them. These elements of trust will open up space for you to ask for feedback, reward transparency and take action to correct problems. – Susan Hobson, Elite High Performance Inc.

12. Foster A Culture Of Transparent Communication
You should constantly communicate with your employees by offering praise when things go well and working through issues together without shame or blame. While not always comfortable, giving direct feedback is an important part of this. If employees always know where they stand, they will be more comfortable sharing with you. – Krystal Yates, EBR HR Experts

13. Create A Brief, Research-Based Questionnaire
Show employees that you genuinely care about their growth, development and success. An open-door policy is nice, but don’t wait for them to come to you. A brief, structured, research-based questionnaire can help reveal motivations and encourage transparent conversations about outside-the-box solutions. Be a listening ear, show empathy and co-create solutions to encourage employees to open up. – Cheri Rainey, Rainey Leadership Learning

14. Don’t Jump Right Into Problem-Solving Mode
Resist the urge to immediately go into problem-solving mode. This can be a particularly difficult challenge for leaders, who were most likely promoted because of their ability to be great solution finders. Instead, understand that your role in the moment is to listen and gather more information. Do this by asking questions, deeply listening and summarizing for clarity. – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC

15. Create A Culture Where It’s Safe To Fail
Make it a habit throughout the year to create a culture where it’s safe to fail. Hold team meetings and postmortems where your team debriefs on what was learned from projects or situations that didn’t go as planned. Keep the conversations process-based, not blame-based. By consistently making it safe to discuss errors or near-misses, you create safety for employees to open up one-on-one. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC