How to give your staff PERMISSION to talk to you

Every once in a while I meet audience members who point out something so insanely obvious; I wonder how in the heck I missed it.

Ah, the wisdom of curbside observers.

“Yes sir,” I said as a hand shot up.

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

Everyone turned their heads towards the back of the room as the man 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. (See the 5 Pillars of Approachability.)

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.


How do you give people permission to talk to you?

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Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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