I had a hard time at work this week.
Years ago, I worked as a tutor at a company called Private Prep, and loved it. I recently started up again at the same company, this time on a different coast.
I was tutoring a new subject this time, with all new students. And the truth was, I was anxious. I wanted to make sure I could do a good job. That I wouldn't let down the students. That I wouldn't let down the parents.
When I had a little meltdown about it all, I knew I had a choice: I could try to hold all the stress myself, or I could call my manager.
I chose to call him. I was honest about my anxiety and my fears. I was also honest about not being sure I wanted to tutor at all (mostly because I wanted to flag that as soon as possible in case he'd need to replace me).
The whole conversation was vulnerable for me. I didn't want to come across as being incompetent or somehow flawed. I didn't want to be perceived as too much, too emotional, or too unstable.
I didn't know exactly how he'd respond.
Here's how he did respond:
He listened closely. He didn't interrupt or make me feel wrong for being in tears. He was gently reassuring about my role and his faith that I would grow into it. And he made sure to let me know I'd be accepted (not shamed) if I did ultimately decided I didn't want to do this anymore.
One of the last things I said before I got off the phone was, "Thank you ... I feel heard."
Then I went and taught a great lesson.
There are a lot of ways to be a good manager. You can be reliable, trustworthy, and helpful. You can support your people by having flexible work hours and remembering their birthday. You can be sure those under you understand your expectations, and praise them when they meet them.
But there's one skill that trumps all of these, and that is this:
You must be a good listener.
It doesn't mean you can fix every problem. It doesn't mean you even need to agree with your employee (about whatever they're talking about). It doesn't mean you have to implement a suggestion of theirs.
It does mean you need to listen closely.
In a recent study, Salesforce Research surveyed over 1,500 business professionals on values-driven leadership and workplace equality. Among other findings, they discovered that when an employee feels heard, that person is 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.
Not twice as likely--not even three times as likely. They're over four times as likely to feel empowered to do their best work for you.
When your people feel heard, they feel motivated. They feel like they can do a good job. They know they've got what it takes.
It is absolutely crucial that your managers understand this. Turnover is expensive, and people don't quit jobs; they quit managers.
Promote the managers that people feel heard by. And if you get negative feedback about a manager, take action. Get them into empathy training. Teach them how to engage in active listening.
Listen to your people.