This article originally appeared in SmallBiz Daily.
One of the most frequent issues I see within organizations is a lack of interpersonal skills from the top. Yes, you may be great in the boardroom, but do you know everyone’s names? There is a stereotype that powerful people get out of having to do trivial things, like remembering names, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Open conversation is at the heart of good communication in the workplace, with steady communication acting as the blood flow that makes the body work properly. After all, how can you really know what people are interested in or capable of unless you ask them?
Here are three steps to start those conversations – and keep them going:
Too many business leaders fall into the trap of treating casual conversations with employees like a business meeting. Cut the strategy and keep it simple. When you find yourself in a situation where you could stay in your shell or initiate conversation, challenge yourself to speak up: “What are you reading?” “Do you have any vacation plans coming up?” or even “What have you been watching on Netflix lately?” are great places to start. Don’t be afraid to get personal, as small talk has the powerful ability to build trust and camaraderie over time.
It’s no secret that we all love a good story, whether we’re watching it, reading about it, or hearing it in person. When you open up and share your own story, your team members can see you as more than just your title. More so, they feel invited to share their own story, which can initiate further discussion about common likes and interests. While it can be initially awkward, remind yourself that getting personal with your team shows that you value authenticity and want to promote the same among your team. Cultivating an authentic workplace has positive implications beyond just great communication, according to Psychology Today: Being your authentic self can actually lower anxiety and irritability and help you better manage emotional and environmental changes.
A workplace that people enjoy coming to each day doesn’t just happen. It takes years of intentional effort (and good hires!) to create a culture of acceptance and appreciation. As the leader, you set the tone for the entire workplace. If you never laugh, neither will your team. If you do anything more than answer emails all day, you set that as the standard culture throughout your office walls. Create ways for your team to communicate with you (and each other) more often, whether that’s with a weekly happy hour, more group meetings or a quarterly outing. These activities will present you with opportunities to share more about yourself, ask simple questions and foster a general feeling of friendliness throughout the team.