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Set the stage so people open up to you

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Your success as a manager depends on whether your staff and peers feel comfortable confiding in you. If they don't trust you enough to reveal what's bothering them, you can play guessing games trying to lift sinking morale.

To foster more open communication, create a soothing environment where visitors can relax and speak their minds in privacy. Minimize annoying distractions—from a radio's background noise to your computer's constant beeping.

When people come by asking to talk with you, your first question should be, "How long would you like to talk?" Regardless of the answer, you can usually tell by observing them whether the matter is serious and merits your immediate attention.

A troubled individual may stammer and say, "I'm not sure how long it'll take. But there's something I need to talk with you about." That's your signal to invite them in and close the door.

"Always stand up and walk toward the door so that you greet the visitor without a desk or conference table separating the two of you," says Colleen Rickenbacher, an etiquette consultant in Dallas. "You don't want to do a 'table shake' where you stretch out and shake someone's hand over a desk where it serves as a divide."

If you fail to stand up when someone enters your office, you may alienate your visitors. You risk looking lazy and uninterested in what they have to say, says Rickenbacher, author of Be on Your Best Business Behavior.

A nervous or anxious employee may not come right out and say what's most important. Exhibit patience and don't change the subject.

Begin by asking, "What's on your mind?" Speak with sincerity and maintain eye contact. If you start by raising a business issue that's on your mind, you make it even harder for the other person to level with you.

Lessons Learned

In the first few seconds, your show of hospitality and genuine interest in others' well-being can enhance the quality of conversation. Take these steps:

Offer a beverage. If visitors want to open up to you about a sensitive matter, they may have a dry mouth. Keep bottles of water or juice nearby.

Keep tissues within reach. You never know when someone will get emotional.

Sit around a table. Some people may not feel comfortable speaking across your desk, especially if you're seated in a plush, thronelike chair. Gather around a small conference table or sit next to your desk in the same type of chair as your guest. You'll spark a more free-flowing dialogue if you remove "power props" that can drive a wedge between you and others.

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