(Estimated reading time: 3 minutes)
I liked the guy, but I could tell the feeling was not mutual.
He was my boss and we were on good terms. We saw each other mostly in passing, often greeting each other with witty banter. Occasionally we would strike up a conversation centered on random interests: sports, movies, music or past work experiences. On the surface an observer might have believed we were friends.
We weren’t and I knew it. How? He never asked me any questions about my personal life.
Everyone knows when someone is interested in them or not because they ask questions, whether about themselves, their passions, their interests, and so on. The questions are not forced or perfunctory, but represent a genuine interest and passion in knowing the person beyond their name tag or resume. When you don’t ask these questions about someone else, it sends a clear signal: I don’t care about you.
Why don’t your employees care about you or their job? It may be as simple as a failure to ask the right questions.
Some blog posts don’t require a lot of words. This is one of them.
Our lives are busy. Too busy. So busy that there isn’t much time or opportunity to get to know anyone. If anyone were to ask this former boss of mine why he didn’t take the time to get to know me better, this would likely be his response. The fact that he didn’t get to know most of his employees told me that it wasn’t personal in any way.
Yet, if you value the people who work for you, you’ll make the time. You’ll find the opportunities; a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Perhaps more to the point, you’ll stay aware of the opportunities when they present themselves, seizing them whenever possible to ask a question here, a question there.
Jerry Seinfeld calls it “garbage time.” It’s the time you spend with others with no clear purpose other than to spend time with them, letting the conversation drift wherever it goes. Some of the best memories we have with others had no clear purpose to the interaction.
Garbage time is the best time, not a filler between important tasks. When these opportunities present themselves, the quality of your questions will determine the quality of your interaction. Yes, you can spend the time asking about someone’s favorite movie or sports team; when you are first getting to know someone, these ice-breakers are appropriate.
However, opening this door allows you to get to the real person in front of you, including their passions, their motivations, their outlook on both life and their job, and so much more. Simply put, this won’t happen unless you start asking questions about these things.
Does that make you uncomfortable? I know it made my former boss uncomfortable, even though he didn’t seem to be aware of his discomfort. His discomfort was a bigger reason than the excuse of “time”.
The cure? Start practicing. Although this approach is foolproof, it won’t be easy at first. You’ll surely make many mistakes along the way, resulting in some awkward conversations.
The answer for this awkwardness? Be open and honest about it. People are much more forgiving of your mistakes when you are authentic about your fallibility.
Why don’t your employees care about you or their job? It may be because you don’t care about them or the job they do.
Change the conversation. Start expressing your care for them, and their care will follow.