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Why ‘Stay’ Interviews are Not Enough to Keep Employees

leadership relationships trust
Two business women sitting on a couch talking


I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou

By John Millen

As the economy and society reopen many people are in the process of reevaluating their purpose, work-life balance and careers.

If you’re a leader it means you likely have some people thinking of leaving.

That’s because the robust employment market offers employees many options for new jobs, new working situations and, no offense, new supervisors.

There's a truism in the HR world that employees don't leave companies, they leave bosses. How they are treated by their supervisors is a key factor in whether they stay or go.

As a leader you can find plenty of tactics for conducting “stay” interviews and advice like, Why These 5 Stay Interview Questions Are All You Need, but none of these matter if you have not worked on the most important factor in human relationships: trust.

Maintaining trust has never been more important, or more challenging, and how you communicate is central to building trust.

If a leader can’t build trusted relationships, nothing else matters. And people make feeling-based decisions on whether they trust you.

At work and at home and everywhere in between, we have encounters with others. 

By the end of the day, we remember few details about communication, but we certainly recall how people made us feel.

Think about it from your own perspective:

What do you remember from all of the communication you had last week?

What do you recall from the CEO’s all-employee message on reopening; from the blur of virtual meetings; or from that Zoom call with your boss?

Chances are you don’t remember the specifics, but you do retain the emotion – perhaps stress, pleasure, anger, joy, or regret.

Communication during these encounters deeply encodes itself in our minds. Scientists monitoring real-time brain activity with MRIs have confirmed that we are primal animals making emotionally based decisions.

That’s a huge part of why we remember few details but we always remember how others made us feel. Throughout the development of human history, we had to know where we stood in the group and with our leaders to protect our status as a member of the tribe. Look around your organization and you’ll know that’s still true.

Build or break trust

As leaders – and we are all leaders of influence in one way or another – our communication can have a powerful impact.

People decide whether to trust your communication based on three factors: your words, your tone and your attitude.

Together, these three elements give us the power to lift people, to inspire them, or to wound them. All of these factors determine whether we build or break trust in our relationships.

Watch your tone

And often tone and attitude are more important than the words you say. Here’s a test of your tone: have you ever found yourself, at work or at home, telling someone, “but I didn’t mean it that way”?

If I ask you to reflect for a bit, I’m sure you can come up with something positive that was said to you by a parent, a teacher, or a friend that is still with you today.

On the other hand, if you’re like most of my clients, you can easily recall, and fixate on, a comment that was cruel or hateful back in your school days.

You remember how they made you feel. What we say, especially the negative, can last a lifetime.  It’s why we have to use this power with great care.  

Instead, we don’t plan our communication and often blurt out what comes to mind at the moment. We may regret it later when it’s too late.

So, before you schedule your “stay” interviews, think about how you communicate. 

With your communication style – your words, your tone, and your attitude – how do you make people feel? Are you building trust every day, or tearing trust away?

As leaders, we should be more mindful. Try to be observant this week and if you can’t figure out how you make them feel, there’s an easy way to find out: Ask and then listen carefully.


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John Millen

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