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How to Give Your Staff PERMISSION to Talk to You


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As an author and professional speaker, I often meet audience members or readers who point out something so insanely obvious; I wonder how in the heck I missed it.

Ah, the wisdom of curbside observers.

Switzerland. Summer of ’05. I was hosting a workshop at a youth leadership conference. We’d just started our program, so I was only beginning to tell the teenagers about the various reactions I observed in the first few years of wearing my nametag 24-7.

Suddenly, the hand of an enthusiastic staff member shot up.

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Well, it’s not really a question, but more of a comment,” the man explained.

Forty highschoolers turned their heads towards the back of the room as he said, “You know why I like this whole nametag idea? Because it’s like you’re giving people PERMISSION to talk to you.”

The room fell silent.

Wow. Five years I’d been wearing a nametag 24-7, and that word never occurred to me. Permission. I liked it! And in the next few days, I realized why the word PERMISSION was so essential to approachability and communication.

Problems Escalate without Permission
Some people would rather jump off a cliff than talk to a stranger. They’re shy, introverted, scared, uncertain, don’t know what to say and have a fear of being judged by others. So, this means they will not approach you, or feel comfortable being approached by you, unless permission is granted.

The easiest way to give permission is to smile. It’s the simplest front porch known to man. According to Irving Goffman, the father of social psychology, “a smile is the number one indicator that conversation is desirable.” And it might sound incredibly obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t understand the value of smiling as it pertains to giving permission.

Like my old boss, David, the Front of the House Manager at a hotel where I used to work. He was one of those ex-military types that stared people down with his eerie green eyes until they ultimately averted their gaze and allowed him to take control of the conversation. And I swear to God, he never smiled. You could crack the funniest joke in the world, and, NOTHING!

I’m not even sure if he had teeth.

Anyway, because David didn’t smile, he wasn’t giving his staff permission to talk to him. Because he wasn’t giving permission, he wasn’t approachable. And as a result, our team lacked open, effective communication. For example, I once had a problem with my hours, namely that I was working 54 of them in one week as a part time employee! But I never felt comfortable coming to David with my problem because he was just THAT unapproachable. My thought was: I’d rather suck it up and work overtime than have a conversation with this jerk. That’s how unapproachable he was.

But that only made things worse. And as the problem remained hidden from my immediate manager, it escalated. I ended up working eight out of the next nine days in a row (remember, I was a part timer!) and ultimately became so upset that I just lost it. That ultimately resulted in my resignation from the position.

Because he never gave me permission to approach him.

Signals of Permission
Here are some other ways to give the people around you permission to approach you:

*Make eye contact and greet everybody, even the people you don’t know *Use adequate pauses in your conversation so people feel comfortable chiming in
*As you exit conversations or meeting, remind people that they can still come to you at any time in the future with related questions or ideas
*Keep your office door open to make yourself physically available, or if not, post your schedule outside the door
*Even if you’re freezing your butt off, don’t cross your arms
*Use the word “permission” in conversations to deliberately remind people that they can feel comfortable approaching you

Ultimately, these interactions are about opportunity: opportunity to hear what’s really going on with your staff; opportunity to really get to know someone; opportunity to show your people that you’re really willing to listen to their ideas and problems. So, think about ways you can grant permission to the people around you. Because if you want your staff to feel comfortable and confident stepping onto your front porch, you’ve got to give them permission to talk to you.

© 2006 All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

Scott Ginsberg, aka "The Nametag Guy," is the author of three books and a professional speaker who helps people maximize approachability, become unforgettable and make a name for themselves. To book Scott for your next association meeting, conference or corporate event, contact Front Porch Productions at 314/256-1800 or email

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2006-10-18 01:06:34 in Employee Articles

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