Shari Harley on Workplace Communication
August 6, 2013 - 11:22am
Author and ALA Conference speaker Shari Harley shares ideas on how to have productive conversations at work.

Residential Lighting: Tell us about your book “How to Say Anything to Anyone.”
Shari Harley
: The key to being more candid at work is to establish relationships where you have permission to be candid. “How to Say Anything to Anyone” is about creating relationships where people tell you the truth with less fear.

RL: How can we cultivate such straightforward relationships?
: First, tell your employees what kind of culture you want. You should be strong on that with your hiring. If you’re “customer-centric” or “team-centric” or “friendly,” you can’t hire people who don’t have those qualities.

Second, align your actions with your company culture. If you value transparency and openness, then you need to share the books with employees periodically. You don’t need to give them everything, but employees need to know where customers are satisfied and dissatisfied and how they contributed to that result.

RL: What’s the most effective way to talk to your boss?
: There are two techniques. One is to be direct. Tell your boss, “Here’s what I think, and here’s why.” Whether or not you can do that will depend on the quality of your relationship. 

The second technique is to lead by asking questions, but watch your tone. There’s a curious tone, and then there’s a questioning tone. Don’t question someone. Offer your opinion in a less threatening way. Be inquisitive, interested and curious: “This is an interesting concept. Tell me more about it. How do I fit in? Where did you get the idea?” That’s very different from, “This is never going to work.” The boss will stop listening to you. All they will hear is, “My idea is bad.”

RL: How can we be more direct with our employees?
: When you present ideas down you have more latitude. You have the right to say what you want. But be consistent and see things through. If you implement something, don’t change it so fast, even if it may not be working. Give it a chance. If employees think it’s just the flavor of the week, they’re not going to participate.

The other thing is to give rationale. Give a little data and explain what you’re doing and why. By the time a new idea is presented to employees, owners and managers have thought a lot about it. They expect employees to get right on board. Give people time to have their reactions without judging them as slow adapters.

We don’t do people any favors when we don’t tell the truth. We think that we’re going to damage the relationship by speaking up. But if we don’t speak up and we’re upset then the relationship is damaged anyway. I’d encourage people, even if they say things wrong, to just say something.

RL: Do your ideas work with customers, too?
: The rules are the same. Ask one or two questions and see where the conversation goes: “We’re so happy to have your business. We know that you have choices, and we’re appreciative and honored that you’re here. We want to be the best service provider you’ve ever had. Can I ask a couple of questions about how you would like to work with us? Why here versus another store? How will you know you’ve made the right decision? How are you evaluating us? How do you like to communicate? If we need to get data to you, do you want that by e-mail, voicemail or text message? Do you want us to call? Do you want us to come and look at your house?”


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