Are you approachable?

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If I asked you, “Are you approachable?” What would you reply? You’d probably say, “Of course I am. I have an open door policy. No one is afraid to stop in and talk to me.” Well that’s a good start but it’s usually not enough.
 
If you are scheduled back-to-back in meetings, or appear scattered or rushed, or spend hours in your office (or cubical) answering email, you may be sending signals that are just the opposite. Most employees won’t want to interrupt you. So what can you do? Being loaded with meetings and emails is usually just part of a manager’s job.
 
Some managers schedule blocks of office time, where they don’t book meetings. They let their employees know they are free to stop in, even if the manager is returning emails. When they walk in, the manager gives the person their full attention.
 
Others hold one-on-one meetings, on a regular schedule. They could be weekly, or twice a month, or even monthly, depending on the need for frequency. This gives the employee a set time that is all theirs. It’s a great opportunity to check in on projects, find out if the person has any concerns, or provide feedback and coaching. It’s also an opportunity to get to know the employee on a more personal level.
 
Others make it a point to walk through the employees’ area in the morning, at lunch, or near the end of the day. They let their employees know their intentions, so they realize what the purpose is. Some organizations formalize this process. They borrow from the hospital practice of “doctor’s rounds”. Each manager walks around weekly and asks employees specific “rounding questions” such as “What is going well and who’s contributing to that?” and “What’s not going so well? Any ideas for ways to improve the process?”.
 
Sometimes the way a leader answers questions can create an approachability problem. For example, if they act rushed or irritated, it can send the signal that they don’t want to be bothered. Some leaders keep staring at their computer screen while they are answering a question, or repeatedly check their Blackberry for messages.
 
If you are a technical go-to person, barraged with frequent questions, you need to demonstrate your full attention and approachability. When a question is asked, it’s tempting to simply answer it. That approach will be efficient but perhaps not very effective. Instead, I recommend going on a brief journey with the employee. I call it the “Journey of Intentions.”
 
Rather than going straight to the answer, take a side trip. Ask questions such as “What do you think you should do?” Ask “What was your thought process behind this approach?” “Or, “What would you do next if I weren’t here?”
 
Once the expert uncovers the intentions behind the employee’s actions, they will see what parts they understand and also the flaws, or misperceptions, in their thinking. Then the expert can tailor the answer and lead them down a different path of logic. 
 
Going on this “Journey of Intentions” works in many situations and is a bit like a scavenger hunt. Rather than assuming others think the same way you do, it will reveal the differences and open opportunities for you to be a clear, powerful communicator and coach. You will be demonstrating approachability through your teaching. People won’t feel intimidated or foolish.
 
There is no guarantee that the number of questions will diminish, but it’s likely that the more you teach, the fewer na├»ve questions you will get. They will be replaced with more sophisticated questions that will be more stimulating and challenging.
 
Don’t take your approachability for granted. Take steps to match your actions to your intentions.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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