One of the hallmarks of a good employee is someone who is willing to bring the difficult things to your attention. It shows ownership and thinking beyond personal responsibilities. Further, stripping people of that ability is a catalyst for conflict, not to mention loss of morale and other costly issues. So how do we encourage this?
One of the best ways is also a key element of effective communication - develop great listening skills. Scheduling, one of the listening skills, can be accomplished without further training. And it's critical for good client communication and staff communication. There's more to it than we may think, though.
When client or staff person asks if they can share something or if they can have a moment, they're asking for focus. They care enough to bring something to your attention or ask for your perspective. In order to respect them, then, it may work best to schedule them for another time. When scheduling, be sure to ask about the nature of the conversation they would like to have.
Schedule them when you don't have another event that may cause you to be late or unavailable. Hangovers in terms of time and focus jeopardize our ability to listen. The same is true for the conversation the person in front of you is asking for - you may want to prepare for or reflect on it as well, and to the extent you can, adding in that time adjacent to the conversation will save you time because you won't have to spend time re-reading notes or getting back up to speed. So schedule time to prepare beforehand and reflect after, as if you were traveling back and forth from the meeting. In a mental sense, that is exactly what you are doing.
Preparation, especially if you aren't certain what the person plans to say, is key. It may seem odd to prepare for something you don't really know about. But if you asked about the subject and intention for the meeting, you have enough information to jot down some notes or questions or even contact others to ask a few questions. At the very least, though, you'll want to make sure you are in a state of mind where you can listen well.
One of the states I find useful is curiosity. Curiosity naturally inspires an open frame of mind and, at the same time, inspires questions. Questions carry a lot of weight alone, and a state of curiosity helps design them and dig deeper and intentionally, making a powerful combination that is key for conflict resolution. Prevention, too, because people build resentment when they don't get their say or feel heard. They don't have to get their way, but letting them have their say will go a long way toward conflict resolution and prevention. Curiosity also helps curb defensiveness and invites more possibilities or ideas.
Another aspect of scheduling that can improve listening skills is the location. It may be best to have the conversation on neutral territory, when you aren't behind your desk or in your office. A conference room may be more neutral, for example, and it can also help prevent distractions, change perspective, and be out of view so others won't be as likely to interrupt. So, in considering when to schedule, it may be best to look at the availability of conference rooms.
Scheduling with these considerations may take a little getting used to, but the return makes it worthwhile. When the people feel heard, it improves client relations, prevents conflicts, helps keep key employees, and many more things, not the least of which is allowing you to sleep at night.