Getting Beneath the Surface


Have you ever been asked, “How are you doing?” only to have the asker already out of earshot by the time you turn to answer?

If we’re honest, we’ve all probably been that question asker at some point. We’re busy, and we have enough challenges to deal with in our own lives, so we exchange brief pleasantries to be polite. It’s not that we don’t care, but we also don’t really want to have to deal with the messiness of what’s going on beneath the surface.

How are you? Fine! Everything okay? Yep! Let me know if I can help do anything. Okay!

Problem is, the surface isn’t where trusting relationships are built. An uncomplaining teammate doesn’t necessarily mean a happy one. Silence doesn’t always equal calm waters. Leaders have to want to get beneath the surface. Here are three actions that you can take to get past the polite pleasantries.

  • Care. You can’t fake caring. Some leaders exude care and empathy; others must be more intentional about showing it. Some employees are easier to care for than others. The easiest way to illustrate “care” for teammates is by always being “for” them. How do you show you care in a way that connects with your individual teammates?
  • Listen. “How are you doing?” is not a bad question, but if you want honesty, ask it in a time and place where your employee can be vulnerable with their answer. Ask it, then look them in the face, and listen. When is the last time you really listened to your employees?
  • Pay attention to what isn’t said. A colleague may say they’re “fine,” but their body language says otherwise. A normally talkative team now works in silence. A star performer suddenly starts struggling. If you know your team well, you can sense the noise even when it’s quiet. Are you listening for the noise?
  • Learn to discern real issues from drama. Drama distracts, and it never really goes away. I’ve blogged before on drama in its many forms at work, and how to address it. How do you show you care without tolerating drama?

Make the extra effort this week to connect with your team. How will you go beneath the surface?

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