Before an employer can even begin to address any situation where employees aren’t listening, or at least appearing not to listen, the question of why this is happening must be asked. Perhaps there is tension over some policies or there is an emotional distance between employer and employee. If employees are intentionally tuning out their employer, there’s almost always some sort of distraction causing a disconnect. Once you figure out the why, you can then proceed to a resolution.

Bridge the gap

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The best way to close any communication divide is to bridge this gap strategically. One good way to reopen that channel is to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are queries that attract more than mere yes or no answers, or simply one-word responses. Such questions might begin with phrases like, “How do you feel” or “Please describe,” which is successful because it engages the listener. Most importantly, asking an employee to describe any set of circumstances in his or her words will express that their opinion is solicited and valued. Employees that feel respected in this manner are far more likely to open-up with their employer. Furthermore, they’re more likely to listen more attentively.

Stop sweating the small stuff

Another good way to encourage employees to listen better is to stop sweating the small stuff. Nothing makes an employee tune out an employer faster than some new petty rule. For instance, if a company institutes a causal dress policy on Fridays, but disallows the wearing of jeans simply because the owner doesn’t like jeans, many employees might hold that decision against the boss. An employer might want to ask themselves if the trouble is really worth it. If employees turn against their employer over the minutia of a dress code, how will you ever get them to buy into much more essential company practices? If you’re flexible over the small stuff, your employees will be much more in-tune with the company’s bigger decisions.

The more the merrier

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It’s always good to bring others into important discussions. This is the beauty of a second voice. Parents have all experienced situations where all the nagging in the world couldn’t persuade their kids to brush their teeth, at least not until a teacher or another child supported the same practice. Bring in a second voice from another department to show there are other department leaders involved with the decision making process. This creates a far more expanded group discussion, which is far less threatening and intimidating on an emotional level.

Keep it light

Lastly, don’t forget to throw in a little humor. By opening any employee meeting with a few funny remarks, you can immediately diffuse any tension. This will tell your employees they’re engaged in a discussion, not a lecture.

Remember to do your best to find out what caused any communication breakdown, to ask open-ended questions, to let the little things go, to bring in extra voices and to color discussions with lighthearted moments. If you try this approach, your employees will want to hear what you have to say.


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This article was written by Dan MacIntosh for CBS Small Business Pulse