How to Become a More Approachable Manager at the Office

The other day, I got into a conversation with my oldest son, who is about three years into his management career. He was filling me in on some of the things going on at his work and I noticed something. He often has people from other departments coming to him to ask advice, pick his brain and even to get things off their chest. It hit me that his mother and I must have done something right in those childhood years, because my now adult kid is an extremely approachable manager.

Think about the managers you’ve had in your life. Most were probably average to good, a couple were outstanding, and unfortunately … some that were the human personification of the Ten Egyptian Plagues. This post isn’t about the latter ones. It’s about those bosses that are approachable. The ones that are easy to talk with even when the subject might be a bit dicey.

Approachable managers have certain traits in common. Depending on your personality, some of these may be more difficult for you than others. For instance, making eye contact is very hard for people on the autism spectrum, even when they’re high functioning. However, there are other things they can do to remain approachable to employees. Whether you’re a boss or not, if you want to be more approachable, try to do as many of these things as possible.

Here are eight ways to become a more approachable manager:

1. Smile 

Let’s be honest … if you can’t smile, the rest of this list will be nearly impossible to do, so let’s take care of our #1 trait right now. Several studies throughout the years show that the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct impact on how friendly you’re perceived to be. Also, people mimic the expressions on the faces they see, so if you smile, you’re more likely to be smiled at.

One caveat: Make it a nice warm smile, not some bizarre toothy serial killer grin. I’m just sayin …

2. Be sincerely into the other person and what they have to say

Sure, there might be times when you are absolutely crushed with work and can’t talk, but otherwise, put aside whatever you’re doing and focus on the other person. Be easily impressed, entertained, and interested. People get more pleasure from entrancing YOU with their humor and insight than from being blown away by your humor and insight.

If you can’t talk at that moment, there’s nothing wrong with a simple apology and a promise to talk as soon as your schedule opens up. That’s just one more thing that makes you approachable … and a nice person.

3. Open up your body language

Lean toward people, nod, pepper the person’s conversation with affirmatives (such as, “Yes”, “I see”, or even a simple “Uh-huh”), and turn your body to face the other person’s body. Don’t turn your body away, cross your arms, or grunt monosyllabic answers like you’re a Neanderthal. And, for gosh sakes, do NOT check your phone while the other person talks. Unless your wife or partner is in the hospital about to deliver a baby, the phone stays hidden.

4. How you talk about others reflects back on you

Psychologists call it “trait transference.” It’s the phenomenon when whatever you say about other people influences how people see you. If you describe a co-worker as brilliant and charming, your colleague will tend to associate you with those qualities. Conversely, if you describe a co-worker as aggressive and obnoxious, those traits will stick to you. So watch what you say.

5. Be self-deprecating

Showing vulnerability and a sense of humor makes you more likable and approachable. However, don’t push it too far—keep it light. Constantly insulting yourself or poking fun at your quirks makes people uncomfortable and quickly makes you the person to avoid at the office.

6. Make yourself a beacon of energy and good humor

Because of the phenomenon of “emotional contagion,” people catch the emotions of other people, and they prefer to catch an upbeat, energetic mood. Even if you revel in the sarcastic cynic persona, you can do it with good humor and warmth and people are attracted to it. Hey, Groucho Marx became a legend doing it in Hollywood.

7. Show the other person you like them … even when you’ve never met them

We’re more apt to like someone if we think that person likes us. Have you ever noticed that some celebrities and athletes are almost universally beloved because of stories of them treating fans like long-lost friends? Showing interest in another person is a powerful, powerful thing. I once had a phone interview with a hiring manager who was exceptionally pleasant during the call. The job went to someone else, but because of the way he treated me and put me at east (in an interview!!!), I smile every time I see the name of the company in the news. You cannot buy that kind of good publicity.

8. Use the other person’s name often

There’s nothing more influential at making a good impression than using the other person’s first name occasionally during the conversation. If you have trouble with names, don’t panic. You can learn some tricks to remembering names here.

In today’s work environment, the relationship people have with their boss is the #1 reason for staying with or leaving a company. Having approachable managers means the workforce will be more loyal and engaged and should decrease employee turnover.

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