We hear a lot about the importance of utilizing “soft skills” or “people skills” at work. Still, many in management and leadership suffer from poor interpersonal communication. To uncover some specific ways to help leaders who are lacking in this area, I turned to a wise leader and entrepreneur, Neville Garnham, Founder, CEO, and Managing Director of Today4Tomorrow Group Pty Ltd. I share some highlights of our interview below.
People Skills are Not Optional
Regardless of your role within an organization, Neville emphasizes that people skills are a must. “Being socially adept at parties and the like is not the same thing as adequate people skills at work,” Neville says. It is the manager’s job to set expectations and to “walk the talk” through effective communication practices.
Neville encourages team members to “foster robust debate that doesn’t degenerate into personal assaults.” Leaders should drive home the message that we can disagree yet still be civil. “People matter, even if they’re wrong,” Neville advises. Consider mandatory training programs for people skills and communication skills. They help.
Neville encourages managers to learn about the individuals on their team by listening to them. “Know them and build trust,” he says. He also suggests that managers be visible and approachable at work. Have an open door policy that truly lives up to its name.
“You’ve just got to sit down and listen,” Neville says. If a manager “comes to grips with talking and understanding the person, then he will be far better off” when trying to develop rapport.
Further, put your ego to the side, Neville suggests. “If you can let your own ego sit back… and talk and listen to the person, you’ve got a better chance of moving forward and dealing with difficult people at work.”
Ask, Don’t Guess
Too often, employees are afraid to tell their manager that they do not know the answer to a question. So, they make something up or they share what they think the manager wants to hear. Both of these options are not productive for the relationship or for the business’ bottom line.
If you have a question, then ask it, Neville advises. Further, the leader should promote an environment where questions are encouraged. “Too often, when people ask the question, the person makes up the answer” for fear of disappointing the person asking the question. Managers should stop this cycle, and emphasize that it is okay to find the answer (and get back to the person) if you do not know it off the top of your head.
Be Willing to Take a Third Position
Neville shared a story about a CEO who “played cards with employees during lunch to uncover issues.” Instead of assuming that he knew all of the answers, the CEO asked questions of his staff and learned their perspectives on various issues. Then, he reflected and evaluated his position, and was “willing to take a third position.”
By actively listening and reflecting on the message of his staff, this CEO was able to uncover new ways to tackle a situation. We can do this, too. We must be willing to listen to others, and admit that we don’t have all of the answers. “It’s how you frame it, where you place yourself, and how you deal with your integrity,” Neville says.
I learned so much from my time with Neville. His keen understanding of interpersonal communication was apparent through our dialogue. I hope that you enjoyed learning from him, too! Thanks, Neville, for a great interview!