Improving Managerial Unapproachability
Diagnosis: Resting boss-face (RBF). Symptoms include: Being asked questions like ‘Why don’t you smile more often?’ Being called, ‘cold,’ ‘angry’ or ‘rude,’ and being considered unapproachable. Cause: Your face, probably. Prognosis: Honestly, not great. But there are ways to improve your approachability and that can balance out your RBF. This is especially important if you’re a manager, because being unapproachable can impact how your employees view you, how quickly you can respond to issues and how much loyalty you inspire in your colleagues.
If you’re not sure whether you’re an unapproachable boss, here’s a simple test: Have you ever said any along the lines of:
‘Work is work.’
‘I don’t need to make friends to get results.’
‘I’m not here to win popularity contests.’
Clue: If the answer is yes, you could be diagnosed as having managerial RBF. The other things that increase this perception include:
- Seeming too busy – employees don’t bring their problems to you because they believe you don’t have time to solve them.
- Managing from a distance – If you’re locked away on a separate floor, in a closed “exco” area, in an office with a closed door, you are – literally – unapproachable.
- Overlooking ideas – new ideas often come from unexpected places. If you haven’t experienced this, it’s because your staff don’t feel comfortable sharing them with you.
Unapproachable bosses end up being so removed from their employees that they don’t know about problems quickly enough to react to them. The cost of not knowing about problems can end up being high for you, your company and – ultimately – your position.
In addition, if your employees don’t bring their problems to you, they won’t bring their ideas either. An example of this is the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The nuclear specialists and their managers at the plant wouldn’t take advice about it from experts in other fields. And – worse – they didn’t approach their employees, who lived in the area and probably knew it better than any nuclear physicist, to listen to their ideas. If they had listened, they might have accounted for the possibility of a tsunami and mitigated against it.
Behavioural neuroscientists have used face scanning software to determine the differences between people with neutral facial expressions to those with RBF. Neutral faces only show 3% of underlying emotions. People with RBF, however, display about 6% of hidden emotions. This is due to the way their mouth rises to one side naturally and facial features like eyes and mouths being downcast. You could probably fix this. But it will be painful for both you and your wallet.
Fortunately, unapproachability in bosses is much easier to fix. Here are five ways to be more approachable:
Approach – physically. With your feet.
Instead of waiting for your employees to approach you, approach them first.
Listen with intention
When your employees do approach you, give them your full attention. Making eye contact, looking up from what you’re doing, and keeping an open posture will tell them that you’re taking what they’re saying seriously. You’ll be simultaneously learning about your employees’ personalities, beliefs, and approach to work. This can be valuable information when you’re evaluating them or looking to optimise your workforce. .
Sharing goes both ways
To inspire openness in your employees, you need to be open yourself. This means sharing information about yourself. You don’t have to confess your deepest secrets to them. It’s as easy as finding something relatable. Good go tos are tv shows, movies, music, books you find useful in your career or blogs you think your employees would find valuable. It’s useful to find something that has longevity (Hint: Grey’s Anatomy has been on TV for 15 seasons).