Relating to Your Staff: What a Two Year Old Can Teach You

Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data.
I was at the big Jamboree celebration in my hometown of Smithville, Texas enjoying the parade, dances, coronation, and livestock show and sale. Local kids raise pigs, chickens, goats, rabbits, and even steers to be judged and sold for the livestock show. One of my childhood friends had her granddaughter, Kyndall, with her.  Kyndall was fascinated by the rabbits. When an eighth-grader walked by holding a white bunny, Kyndall was captivated. After that, she rubbed the rabbit’s ears, patted it gently, and in a moment of brilliance, bent over so that she was eye level with the rabbit. It was as though she was communicating with it. It was an adorable moment that captured my attention. Here is why:

Today, email, Twitter, Instant Messenger, LinkedIn messages and more are a predominant form of communication. However, the insightful leader understands the importance of relating person to person (or, for Kyndall, person to bunny.) Here are three tips to help you become more relatable, particularly for high-stakes conversations.

You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person.

1. Use language that is relatable. Multisyllabic, pretentious (big, showy) words may make us feel educated but they create a barrier to communication. Recently, I assisted a client to craft an important communication to all employees in the company. We intentionally used words that are simple and understandable to all. You create a connection via your communication. Think about the simplest terms you can use to communicate effectively. Simple, concise and clear are the recipe for relatability. 

2. Make eye contact. Kyndall got it right. She made every effort to make eye contact with the rabbit. You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person. Increasingly, the staff I work with seek to hide behind email, but an insightful leader meets in person and makes eye contact – for real. Yes, it’s easier to email but the personal touch makes all the difference. Make the time, and make the effort to talk to your staff face-to-face and eye-to-eye. That’s how you connect as people. 

3. Show your interest. Kyndall carefully ran her tiny fingers through the rabbit’s fur and over its ears. As I watched, it was clear that she loved the rabbit and the rabbit sat calmly under her touch. Your staff may not have soft ears and fluffy fur but you can still communicate your interest through sincere curiosity about their perspective and interest in their work life. How do you express your interest in your staff? What do you know about their thoughts and ideas? Do you inquire about their suggestions to improve their work? Like Kyndall’s rabbit, people respond to those who they sense are interested. What would your staff say about your level of interest in them?

We can learn from Kyndall and her interaction with the rabbit. As insightful leaders, take a few simple steps to be more relatable to your staff. You’ll see that it pays off in dedication and hard work from those that you’re guiding. And they will feel more connected as a team.

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