How to be More Approachable at Work

For years I’ve taught people how to deliver tough messages to coworkers. Lately I’ve started to wonder if I’ve been working on the wrong end of the conversation.

Approachable man

When I ask people why they aren’t willing to speak up, they’ll tell me, “I just don’t know what to say.” I suspect for many that’s just not true.

The reason they don’t bring up concerns isn’t a lack of skills on how to say something just right. Maybe the problem is the lack of skill people have in how to receive a tough message.

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The bad ways people react to tough conversations

There are times when I want to say something but don’t because I fear the other person will…

  • deny
  • defend
  • blame the problem on something or someone else
  • attack
  • report me for “picking on them”
  • bad mouth me to other coworkers
  • yell
  • minimize my feelings
  • pout
  • go cold and ignore me

When this is what you expect, there’s not much incentive to open up the conversation.

To be approachable you need to act approachable

The more helpful responses are easy to identify and hard to do, but I know you can do them. When someone comes at you with tough feedback, fight off your emotional response and try these instead:

  • Thank them for sharing their concern with you.
  • Assume the person has good intentions in talking to you about the concerns.
  • Ask questions to increase your understanding.
  • Show you are listening with your body language.
  • Paraphrase what the person is telling you.
  • Apologize if warranted.
  • Overlook the other person’s lack of skills in message delivery.
  • Reflect on what you hear.
  • Engage in a manner that communicates your desire to work things out.
  • Take some action to demonstrate your willingness to make appropriate changes.
  • Disagree with respect.

If you want your coworkers to talk to you, make it easy for them. Once you’ve established a pattern that shows you welcome the conversation, you will earn their trust, and they will talk to you about their concerns.

That’s a far better outcome than you never knowing what people are thinking or them feeling more comfortable sharing their concerns with others instead of with you.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.