Regardless of what kind of work you do, being more creative makes you more valuable.
Whether you come up with innovative ways of doing things or find new approaches to solve a problem, you’re providing value that could more than pay for your whole year’s salary. It also positions you as a “VIP” – Valuable, Influential and Promotable.
Helping your employer do things “better, smarter and faster” isn’t just an individual enterprise, though.
Most creative breakthroughs come from conversations, whether one on-one or in meetings, in which the people involved know how to communicate in a way that fosters, rather than crushes, creativity.
Being skilled at this is especially important if you’re in any kind of management position, since one of the most important drivers of employee motivation is knowing that one’s ideas and opinions matter. Another important one is being encouraged to solve problems and voice creative ideas – i.e., having a chance to use one’s brain at work.
Employees want to have this kind of creativity-stimulating experience. So how can you be the kind of person who fosters this, whether you’re an individual contributor or supervisor?
First, notice what crushes creativity and don’t do those things!
What NOT to do
Think of times you’ve been in a meeting devoted to solving problems and generating innovative ideas. Maybe the topic was providing a better customer experience, making an organizational change go smoothly, or helping improve your workplace culture.
Thinking back, how many of these scenarios sound familiar?
- One group member put all their energy into convincing others about the value of their idea and no energy into trying to understand the ideas of others.
- Someone with a strong personality or position of power shuts down a discussion by stating their position in a “this is the last word on this topic” tone of voice.
- Someone with a litigator’s mind and mouth punches holes in a team member’s idea, thus crushing the person’s enthusiasm for sharing more ideas.
- Someone engages in a less aggressive transgression, in which the idea and idea-giver are starved by neglect. This frequently happens in meetings, when someone shares their idea, not even a nanosecond of silence occurs, and someone else jumps in to say something totally unrelated. This not only signals that Person 2 was formulating their speech rather than listening, it also communicates disinterest in Person 1’s point of view.It also makes it likely that great ideas die a quick death from neglect, as people rush from one position statement to the next, never reflecting on any of those left behind.
What CAN you do?
- Reflect on how you behave in meetings and one-on-one conversations, and ask yourself if you primarily talk at people or if you truly listen and try to understand their points of view.
- Reflect on your response to ideas and perspectives different from yours. Notice whether you find yourself intrigued by them or if you see them as competitors to be vanquished.
- If you have a forceful personality or a position of significant power, remember that even without meaning to, your power can have a silencing effect on others. You can take care to communicate your point of view in a way that makes it clear you value hearing opposing points of view. You also can directly ask for alternative points of view by asking questions like “What am I missing here?” or “Where am I wrong on this?”
- If you don’t think someone’s idea is valid, ask questions to help you clarify your understanding (and maybe theirs) instead of shooting holes in it.
- If you do disagree, try using a non-threatening approach by saying “Can I play devil’s advocate for a moment?” and then frame your concern or challenge. This simple frame makes it more of a “let’s play with this” interchange rather than a “Prove to me your idea isn’t stupid” challenge.
- Ask for feedback about how well you listen, and encourage others to share their perspectives. Ask both very blunt people who aren’t terribly worried about whether it will hurt your feelings, and very sensitive people who might pick up on things that others won’t. Assure the latter you want candor.
If you think you need to grow in this area, take an Emotional Intelligence assessment, get 360-degree feedback, and/or seek out coaching.When you practice being more intentional about avoiding creativity-crushing behaviors and engaging in creativity-catalyzing behaviors, you’ll not only become even more valuable to employers, you’ll build stronger, more productive relationships of all kinds.
Doing this also helps bring out the best in your colleagues.