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Lend managers an ear to help them solve employee issues

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Issue: Don't always rush in to solve employee problems for managers; sometimes, just listening is the best course.

Benefit: Effective listening casts you in the role of coach, encouraging managers to put out their own fires.

Action: Listen actively, using the techniques below, the next time a manager approaches with an employee problem.

A manager walks into your office to complain about a problem employee. While your first instinct may be to "fix" the problem, slow down. Sometimes, the best course isn't to jump into action or offer an instant answer but to simply listen.

Here's why: Managers and supervisors often fall into the bad habit of automatically dumping employee problems into HR's lap. That includes problems they really could, and should, be solving on their own.

If you immediately leap into rescue mode, you've lost a valuable opportunity. By listening actively instead of just reacting, you take on the role of coach instead of problem-solver, and you can more effectively encourage overly reliant managers to put out their own fires.

Active listening isn't difficult, but it does take practice. The next time a manager shows up at your door with a problem, try these six listening techniques:

1. Tune out distracting thoughts and turn your full attention to the manager.

2. Let the manager explain the situation in his or her own words. Take notice of important information but don't assume you have the "right" answer for the problem. Your goal is to help managers find that for themselves.

3. Listen to more than the manager's words. Body language, tone and inflection can all provide clues to underlying issues.

4. Summarize the manager's key points about the situation. Allow, and listen for, corrections.

5. Ask questions. Even if the situation seems clear-cut, your open-ended questions can help direct the manager toward possible solutions. Examples: "What would the employee need to do to improve the situation?" "Do you see this as a performance problem, a discipline problem or something else?" "What would you like to do about it?"

6. Summarize solutions. If you've been listening carefully, you've probably heard the manager suggest several solutions, perhaps even without realizing he or she has done so. Repeat them, and ask the manager to prioritize what steps he or she will take to solve the problem.

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