Are your employees afraid to disagree with you? Here's how to help them stand up for their opinions.
As the CEO of my online marketing company VerticalResponse, I'm actively involved in the day-to-day and right now I've got 12 direct reports. They span from coordinators to SVP level so I'm dealing with a varied bag of experience and know-how. My team understands that as involved as I am, each one of them is empowered to chart the course for their projects, make decisions and get stuff done to meet our individual and collective company goals.
I was in a meeting with my director of content marketing the other day and she asked me a pretty interesting question... " How do you like to receive push back?" She was asking because not everyone feels comfortable and confident pushing back on the boss (me in this case). It got me thinking about this; as the boss you have to take the fear and risk out of the equation for your employees concerning taking a stance. Allow them to:
1. Just Do It
Imagine that your employee already feels intimidated and scared. Let them know that you hired them because of their expertise, experience and knowledge about what they do. As the CEO or boss, you don't know everything about everything--that's why you need them and want them to share what they know, even if it conflicts with something you think or say. Of course, the feedback should be communicated in a respectful and business appropriate manner--something like, "I disagree here because I have some data from a recent customer survey that our customers prefer X, not Y," is preferable to "You don't have a clue. I know what our customers want."
2. Stop Agreeing
Have you ever been in a meeting where there was that person that shook their head and agreed with everything that was being said, but then walked out of the meeting and slammed everything and disagreed? Passive-aggressive agreement serves no one especially when it comes to business. Allow for an environment where people feel like they are being heard and can say what's on their mind.
3. Have a POV
Your employees are smart otherwise you wouldn't keep them around, so allow them to have an opinion and bring it. Having differing points of views and opinions is the stuff that great products and companies are made of. Being part of the big idea or a collaborative process means everyone speaks up, shares and takes risks. Provide that safe environment where employees can speak up, be heard and be valued for it.
You may be at the top of the org chart, but you admittedly don't have all the answers. You need and depend on your team for information, solutions and getting stuff done, so make sure they feel included in the decision making process all along the way. For instance, if I'm in a meeting and someone asks me what I think we should do, I often turn the tables (in a good way) and ask them what they recommend.
Using the example above, if I ask what someone thinks and then ignore their response, you can imagine how they'd feel. So no matter what, you must actively listen to what people have to say, consider it and take it in, no matter how strongly you feel about it. Otherwise, you'll be a hypocrite and no one wants that.
So how do you handle it if you just don't agree and need to make a decision that your employee doesn't share? Being honest and transparent is your best bet. Let your employee know that you've heard what they had to say, that you really value their opinion, but for [insert the reason] this decision needs to be made. Most employees get that as the boss you have to make tough choices sometimes, and as long as they are considered and valued in the process, they'll buy in and support it.
How do you prefer or handle getting push back? Got any advice to add?
JANINE POPICK is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and event marketing, online surveys, social media, and direct mail solutions. The company was ranked No. 2,802 on the 2012 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick