In each of our own minds, we are wonderfully approachable. It’s ludicrous that someone would think that they couldn’t approach us with an issue.
Other people are unapproachable. Certainly not you. Right?
Sadly, wrong for many people. Unapproachability is a key factor that leads organizations to make poor decisions…and then repeat them. Here are three things you can start doing today to keep from being perceived as unapproachable:
1. Lead With Questions
Years ago, I was working with an organization that was going through a difficult time. As I got to know the key players in the company, I found myself often receiving advice on what could or could not be said in front of the CEO.
The CEO was not very collaborative. People generally were expected to have answers, not discuss problems. When things didn’t work, he sought advice elsewhere in the industry and decisions were made with little input from those in the company.
He completely missed this Dale Carnegie principle:
Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
Had he started more conversations by asking the advice of his team, he would have discovered a lot that was happening internally. Since he didn’t, he missed it and the company suffered.
If you find yourself getting ready to give direction, ask yourself, “Have I made time to discover everything that’s really gone on here?”
2. Thank the Messenger
Most everyone has heard the advice, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” However, even when technically followed, few people embrace a bearer of bad news.
The first time someone decides to be courageous and dialogue with you about a problem or concern, how you respond could set the tone for months or years. I’ve observed people saying things like, “I’m not talking to him while he’s in this mood he’s in,” or, “Keep her out of the loop for now.”
These responses are rational protections that people take, after they’ve been attacked for bringing bad news previously. Ironically, the people who have the courage to have a difficult conversation with you are often those most willing to work to find solutions to problems. Instead, he got an important lesson from you: “Don’t come to me with bad news.”
Once when you get an inkling that someone is delivering bad news, be extraordinary careful with your tone of voice, the words you select, and your facial expressions, If you can keep your cool and thank them for the information, it’s likely you’ll build a lot of trust. If you react poorly, it’s unlikely you’ll hear much again.
3. Discuss Your Mistakes
I learned early in my Dale Carnegie career about the importance of being acutely aware of my audience. This was mostly due to my mentor at the time sharing a story early on about how he made a big assumption (and subsequent misstep) in communicating to a group of clients.
I’ve remembered that story for a decade and it helped a lot in two ways. First, I knew what to avoid. Second, and perhaps more significant, I knew my mentor was human too. It made the path easier when I hit obstacles and I was more willing to seek him out for guidance that I would have otherwise been.
Dale Carnegie said:
Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
If you’ll take the time to discuss a few of the mistakes you’ve made in your career, in the context of the skills others are developing, you’ll appear more human and authentic.
And far more approachable, too.