Want to talk to your Employees More Effectively? Try NBA Championship Winning Coach Nick Nurse’sTrick

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If you want to talk to your employees effectively, you have to make sure everything is out in the open. Omitting things, glossing over details and hiding feelings do not make for productive conversation. This is especially true when you run a team.

When you manage a team of people, you are bound to have issues that pop up, either between team members or on an individual basis. Now, imagine everyone on that team gets paid millions of dollars per year, a large portion of their work is broadcast on television in front of millions of people and they also have to perform their work in front of tens of thousands of people multiple times per week for over half the year.

That’s what NBA coaches have to contend with.

From picking who the starters will be, to dealing with mega-egos, to addressing poor effort on court and helping players work through issues off-court, NBA coaches have to deal with a lot.

But, head coach of the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse has found a unique way to talk with his players that gets right to the heart of any problem: the (literal) elephant in the room.

As outlined on the Jan. 25 ESPN broadcast of the Raptors’ game against the Houston Rockets, Nurse has an elephant decoration (not pictured) in his office that sits on a shelf. When he is talking with one of his players, he takes the elephant off the shelf and puts it on his desk and tells the player they are going to talk about the elephant in the room. This signifyies that nothing is off limits to discuss.

I’m no psychologist, but armchair psychology is one of my favourite pastimes and I think it’s a brilliant idea to use a prop to represent unspoken issues.

Why props work for communication

While using props doesn’t seem to be common in adult psychology, it is quite common when counsellors talk to children. I think it’s the same basic principle at work. When children use props to talk to counsellors, they are able to use the props to distance themselves from the feelings they are discussing, thus making them easier to talk about.

I think the same thing is happening with Nurse and his players. By giving a grievance a physical stand-in, a player can distance himself from what he is feeling as he talks about it.

It’s also a way of saying there are no secrets. You can’t ignore the problem because it is (symbolically) sitting right there in front of you. So, since everyone knows it’s there, you might as well talk about it.

And it can work for your employees, too.

Whether you use an actual elephant or some other kind of prop, having a physical symbol for people to project their feelings onto can help when they have things they need to talk about that they might not otherwise feel comfortable discussing.

How to do it

Theoretically, it doesn’t matter what type of prop you have, although I like Nurse’s elephant idea since it works nicely with a commonly known phrase.

Whatever you choose to use, don’t have it on your desk all the time. Put it on a shelf or in a drawer where it’s not a central decoration in your office. This will help give it significance when you bring it out and let your employees know that when the elephant is out, nothing is off limits. If you have it just sitting in a central area all the time, it will lose its significance.

This will also help to differentiate between more serious conversations and general business meetings.

If you know there is something that needs to be talked about, you can bring it up yourself, or you can wait for the employee to do so. Whether you do it or wait for the employee will depend on the situation.

Also, make sure that your communications prop is always presented as an invitation to talk and not a command to talk. You don’t want employees thinking that if you bring out your prop that you are demanding anything from them. It should always be a welcoming invitation for them to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or repercussions.

When it comes to communicating with employees, openness and transparency always win. Open your door, invite them in and talk about the elephant in the room.

I strongly believe that business communication is still human communication and businesses should connect with people, not Google algorithms.

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