If you’ve ever been told you won’t be able to get ahead if you’re too nice, Fran Hauser, author of The Myth of the Nice Girl, has news for you.
You don’t have to choose between kindness and strength. You only have to focus on how you communicate—which is more important today than ever.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.”
The upshot: How we relate to and communicate with others matters greatly. Here, then, are three qualities critical to effective communication, especially as a boss:
1. Use Empathy.
Many experts say empathy is the single most important factor in trying to influence others. Hauser adds it is also the single most important factor if you want to have an effective outcome.
“I often think about a young woman who I used to work with,” Hauser recalls. “We would be in a lot of meetings together, and I realized that she wasn’t speaking but I knew that she was really smart and had a lot of important things to say.
“I remember one day saying to her before a meeting: ‘I know that you have a really strong point of view on this topic. I’m going to ask you to talk about it in the meeting.’ That gave her time to prepare, she felt much more confident, and she spoke in the meeting. I did that with her a few times and then guess what? She felt comfortable speaking up on her own.”
It’s an example, Hauser says, of using empathy to help share responsibility for other’s success.
2. Create a sense of psychological safety.
When bosses create environments where people respect each other, welcome different points of view and give each other the benefit of the doubt, studies show that employees are happier and more productive, Hauser notes.
“My great grandfather, Papa Frank, used to say: “If both of us agree on everything, then one of us is necessary,’” says Maci Peterson Philitas, co-founder and CEO, On Second Thought, and named to Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 List.
“What he was really getting at was the importance of diversity in thought, and how important it is to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their authentic selves and points of view,” she adds.
3. Offer feedback in a way people can hear it—by being clear and kind.
“Especially if you’re communicating tough news or feedback, if you do it in a way that’s kind, the person will actually hear you, and if you do it in a way that’s direct, they’ll clearly understand the feedback that you’re giving them,” says Hauser.
“Before you give feedback,” she recommends, “pause and make sure you’re the right person to be delivering feedback and you actually know that individual, you know them on a human level. Are you the right person to deliver the message and are they ready?”
Fran Hauser, Maci Peterson Philitas, Laurie Ruettimann and Mary-Jo Gagliardi spoke about “How to Be a Great Boss and Colleague—and Stay Human” at the Massachusetts Conference for Women. You can listen to the entire session here.