If you find it hard to get them to open up to you, don’t keep trying to launch conversations. The more efforts you make to strike up a breezy chat, the more they may retreat into their shell.
Here’s an better way to respond: paraphrase what they say. By showing that you listen without judgment, you send a message that you care about understanding them. And you don’t pose a threat.
The most common form of paraphrasing is simply to repeat what you just heard, but that’s not necessarily the best way to build trust and rapport. Consider these alternatives to spark more lively discussions with the most reluctant speakers:
Restatement. Rather than repeat verbatim what someone said, summarize it in your own words. Preface your remarks by saying “Let me make sure I understand” or “Please correct me if I’m wrong.” This demonstrates that you not only heard their words, but you reflected on them to the point where you can capture the gist of their message.
General to specific. If you want to pin down an employee who’s hesitant to make commitments or reveal too much, take their general statement and respond in a more precise tone. For example, if an administrative aide says, “It helps to get the files sooner than later,” you can reply, “You want the files sooner so that you can catch mistakes early on?”
Specific to general. If the person tends to focus on details without drawing larger conclusions, lead them to expand on or extrapolate from their narrow comments. This invites them to think on a big-picture level. If they say, “This program doesn’t let me combine text with video images,” you can reply, “Sounds like you need more flexibility.”