Are your employees afraid of you? “Of course not,” you scoff. All right, maybe they don’t cower in fear when you enter a room—but are they comfortable coming to you with questions or problems? In other words, are you approachable?
Are You Approachable at Work?
It’s becoming less common for the boss at a small company to be sealed off in the corner office — or even in an office at all. But even if you aren’t hidden away on the executive floor or behind an office door, you may come across as intimidating to your team.
When employees find you intimidating, it causes many problems.
- They’re afraid to come to you with questions about their work, which leads to errors, unsatisfied customers and costly waste.
- They’re reluctant to come to you with problems or tell you bad news. As a result, small issues spiral out of control.
- They don’t feel they can make suggestions or share their ideas. That means a lot of potentially profitable ideas are never acted on.
It boils down to this: When you’re unapproachable, you miss out on a lot of important information that can help your business. And even if you personally are approachable, you may have some managers who aren’t, which can cause the same problems.
Signs You Might Be Unapproachable
You can try asking key managers if they think you’re intimidating. However, while they may find you approachable, they may not realize lower-level employees don’t feel the same way. And if they don’t find you approachable, they may be afraid to admit it.
- Do you frequently feel blindsided by problems in your business?
- Do employees go quiet when you approach?
- Do you become irritable or angry when employees tell you something negative or have problems understanding directions?
- Do you sometimes feel like others know more about your business than you do?
These are all signs you might be intimidating your employees.
How to Be More Approachable
If you’re worried you are unapproachable — or if you know that one of your managers has this problem — here are some steps to make employees feel more comfortable.
1. Smile and make eye contact. It sounds obvious, but when you’re occupied with your business and all the things you have to do every day, it can be easy to spend the day with a frown on your face. Maybe it just means you’re concentrating, but your employees see it as threatening.
2. Watch your body language. Are your words saying one thing to your employees, and your body saying another? You can tell your employees, “Come talk to me any time!”, but if you fold your arms across your chest, jiggle your leg impatiently, or sigh while they’re talking to you, they’ll get a completely different message. Keep your posture open and relaxed when you talk to employees.
3. Be a good listener. Everyone is busy, and as a small business owner, you’re busier than most. However, when you check your email, scroll through your phone or glance at your watch while an employee is speaking, you’re telling them you can’t be bothered to listen. Employees who feel devalued in this way eventually stop trying to communicate with you. Focus on the other person and really listen to what they’re saying instead of thinking about your to-do list or what you’re going to say next.
4. Make the first move. Let’s face it: Simply being the boss is enough to make you intimidating to many employees. Break the ice by reaching out to your employees on a regular basis. Get out of your office and walk around. Be the one to say hello or ask employees about their weekend. Learn about their interests, hobbies and families. You don’t have to be BFFs, and you shouldn’t play favorites. But you should show your interest in the people who work for you. The more they get to know you, the less intimidating you’ll be.
Hiding Man Photo via Shutterstock
It is not just about demeanor. Bosses can be approachable and smile but they can shut down ideas like a madman.