What’s the best way to strike up a business conversation with an employee? You can exchange pleasantries first, but people might sense you have something else on your mind. You can hop right to the point, but that can sound too clipped or abrupt.
Here’s a better strategy: Start with a fact-finding question.
“I encourage any manager when walking the factory floor to make eye contact with an employee, smile and go up to that person and ask a specific question about their task,” says David Haffner, chief executive of Leggett & Platt, a Fortune 500 company in Carthage, Mo., that makes engineered components. “It works virtually all the time to break down barriers. Once they know you’re there to help them and also to educate yourself, it’s less intimidating for them.”
The beauty of opening with a question is you can listen and learn. Based on what you hear, you’re well positioned to steer the discussion in the direction you want to go.