## 3. Seeking Feedback

Communication is a two-way street. As well as communicating to your employees, you need to encourage them to communicate with you, both about how they feel in their job and about important information or ideas about the business.

Using some of the strategies we’ve just mentioned, such as collaborative software and chat tools, will help to some degree. But even in small companies, people can be afraid to speak their mind on sensitive issues in public forums or in front of the boss.

### Run Effective Employee Surveys

So regular employee surveys are a must. It’s best to get an external consultant to conduct the surveys, for two reasons:

1. For the data to be meaningful, you have to ask the right questions in the right ways and analyze the results properly, so it’s good to get help from someone with experience running surveys.
2. The whole point is to get employees’ honest, unvarnished opinions, so it’s important to establish trust that their responses will be anonymous.

With a small business with few employees, you may have to go to extra lengths to ensure that people still can’t be identified. A consultant can help with that. Also consider tying the results to some benchmark, such as an external organization like Great Place to Work. That can help you see where you’re doing well and where you need to work harder. Surveying regularly and maintaining consistency in the questions asked can also help you spot trends over time.

### Informal Meetings

As a small business owner, there’s no excuse for not meeting regularly with your employees. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg regularly meets with entry-level employees in so-called “Zuck Reviews”.

Even better than a formal review, though, is an informal meeting. Zuckerberg is a fan of walking meetings, along with other tech luminaries like Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey. People can often loosen up and feel free to speak their minds when they’re walking in the open air rather than sitting across a desk or around a conference table.

So, although you’re busy, schedule some time with each employee as often as you can. Although we’ve talked about some larger-scale technological solutions, a simple face-to-face chat can often be the most effective form of communication. It may seem stilted at first, but if you do it regularly, you’ll be able to build a level of trust that will encourage employees to open up with you and speak freely.

## 4. Resolving Conflict

In a large company, an important function of the HR department is to resolve conflicts between employees and deal with complaints. If an employee feels unfairly treated, or if two staff members just can’t resolve their differences, they’ll need an appropriate avenue for having the issue resolved.

As a small business owner, those things may well end up being your responsibility, so here's a look at some best practices:

First, you need to have a plan. Conflict will arise from time to time in any organization, even if the workplace culture is generally healthy, so you need to have a method of dealing with it. If your firm is too small to have an HR representative, then you may have to step in, but also look around the company to identify other people who may have the skills to act as effective mediators.

Then establish a conflict resolution process. The following checklist from the Human Resources department at the University of California, Berkeley, provides an excellent starting point:

1. Acknowledge that a difficult situation exists.
2. Let individuals express their feelings.
3. Define the problem.
4. Determine underlying needs.
5. Find common areas of agreement, no matter how small.
6. Find solutions to satisfy needs.
7. Determine follow-up you will take to monitor actions.
8. Determine what you'll do if the conflict goes unresolved.

Try to encourage healthy communication patterns by asking people to keep personalities and emotions out of it and try to describe the issues and consequences objectively, without making accusations.

Conflict can be difficult to deal with, both for those involved and for those trying to mediate. But, if unresolved, it can lead to accumulated resentments and a poisoned work environment.

See the Berkeley article for more details, as well as this post on using the oddly named but powerful “giraffe language” to defuse conflict. If things get so bad that you feel you can’t deal with it, or if the situation demands a level of impartiality that you can’t provide, consider bringing in an external mediator or arbiter.