Having a team that doesn’t engage in open communication can be a terrible situation for a leader.
This includes communication of issues, challenges, ideas and successes so that there are few surprises in the team and everybody can keep improving.
In this post, I’ll take a look at some good ways to encourage open communication within your team.
Warning: Open Communication Can Feel Threatening
Open communication can feel threatening for leaders for a few reasons.
Firstly, when communication flows both ways, your team members may start coming to you with suggestions on how you could do things better.
Then, they might even start to tell you about problems in the team.
They might open up about how they are really feeling… and it might not be good.
However, these are natural side-effects of open communication and should be encouraged.
Some leaders feel threatened when team members push the boundaries, raise issues or offer suggestions. However, this all comes down to ego, and the perception of the leadership role.
If you’re a leader who needs to be right all the time and have all the ideas, then open communication is likely to feel like a struggle.
But given you’re reading this, you’re probably a thoughtful leader who will thrive with open communication!
After all, you can’t fix problems you don’t know about it. Ignorance is not bliss!
Learn More: Bad Leadership (and How to Avoid It).
How to Encourage Open Communication in Your Team
There are several ways to promote open communication in your team. Much of it simply comes down to behaviour and mindset.
Unfortunately, many leaders unintentionally do things that actually work against creating open communication, so we need to be aware of these too.
1. To Create Open Communication In Your Team, Keep the End Goal In Mind
Open communication can feel a little daunting for leaders who may be insecure or used to coming up with all the ideas. That’s why it’s important to keep the end goal of open communication in mind for your team.
Ask yourself (and have a good answer to) this question:
“Why do I want to create a culture of open communication in my team?”
Open communication can help you to be aware of team problems or frustrations earlier, collect suggestions to improve your team and to receive feedback on how your people are feeling.
Open communication will also help you to improve your own leadership. You will learn about what motivates or frustrates your team and will be able to adapt to suit each particular leadership situation.
When somebody comes to you with a complaint, suggestion or feedback, keep your end goal in mind. It may feel threatening, but when you remember why open communication is a positive thing, you’ll take it in your stride.
2. Encourage Open Communication by Being Present
Being present is all about being “in the moment” and paying attention to your team.
Paying attention may sound obvious, but when you get this wrong, you actively discourage open communication.
After all, many leaders have an “open door policy”, but there is a difference between having an open door and people actually walking inside.
Even small signs can help to show people that you want to hear what they have to say. To be present and show that you are paying attention, try to:
- Eliminate distractions: Put your electronic devices on silent mode, turn them face down or turn them off. Get rid of all the notifications, especially while talking to your team.
- Make eye contact: Look at people when you speak to them. This shows that they have your undivided attention.
- Reschedule if you need to: Instead of trying to listen to your team when you are very busy or distracted, see if you can reschedule the discussion. This way you can give your full attention, rather than being preoccupied.
- Practice active listening: Active listening is a way to demonstrate that you are listening to your people, by responding to them at the right time and prompting them properly during your conversation.
Being present and paying attention shows your team that you are interested in listening, which is a great way to encourage open communication.
3. Encourage Open Communication by Asking For Suggestions
There is nothing wrong with actually asking your team for ideas to improve the way you work. In fact, it will hopefully encourage them to come forward.
When somebody in your team has a suggestion, it’s good to try your best to adopt it where possible. Of course, it’s usually not possible or practical to use everybody’s suggestions.
However, showing your team that you are willing to change your approach based on someone else’s idea is a powerful reinforcement of open communication.
If someone has a suggestion that you don’t believe can be adopted or won’t work for some reason, make sure you explain the reasons why. Failing to do this will make people think that you’re just ignoring what they say, which will shut down communication channels.
After all, if you never accept anyone else’s ideas, your people will start to think “why bother?”
4. Start Giving Credit Where It’s Due
Stories about bosses taking credit for their team’s work are everywhere. However, you don’t have to be like them. When someone does have a great idea and it is implemented successfully, give them credit for it.
This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often this is overlooked, even unintentionally.
Insecure leaders may be fearful that their boss will think that their team member is more valuable than them. This can sometimes cause them to take the credit.
If you’re that insecure, then perhaps your team member *is* better qualified to do your job.
When you give credit to your team members, you will start to build trust. Building trust will create a culture of open communication, because your team will know that you aren’t trying to hold them back, or take credit for their successes.
5. Start Using Different Communication Forums
Ever caught yourself thinking something like this?
“But at the monthly team meeting nobody said they didn’t like my idea. Nobody said anything at all!”
Perhaps your team members are uncomfortable raising their issues in a crowded meeting. This is why you need to offer team members different ways to raise their opinions without feeling exposed.
This could be by encouraging private conversations, in addition to group meetings.
This open door policy allows people to come and talk in private when they need to. If you sense that they feel uncomfortable in the workplace, perhaps change the scenery by going outside for coffee instead.
Remember that all your team members are different. Some people will offer their opinion easily while others will be less comfortable with open communication.
It’s your job to help them become more comfortable by trying different approaches.
Learn More: How to Build Psychological Safety at Work.
6. Start Accepting and Acting On Feedback
Along with paying attention, you can also encourage open communication by accepting feedback. This means not only listening to it, but also acting on it if necessary.
If there are things that you’re doing that are making people unhappy or uncomfortable, you need to take action to resolve them if you can.
The worst thing you can do is listen to feedback, say “Thank you for being open with me”, and then ignore the issue altogether along with any suggestions.
This is a sure fire way to shut down communication with your team members.
When Can Open Communication Be a Bad Thing?
In most cases, I think that open communication is a great thing for teams and leaders. However, there are some situations where it can cause problems.
Firstly, some leaders feel compelled to tell their people everything. When this happens, team members may gain access to information they shouldn’t really have.
Before long, leaders may feel as if they have lost authority, because their people start to demand details of them that they’d rather keep secret.
Another example of when open communication may cause problems is when people start to believe they have the right to make decisions in the team, because you’ve been listening to their suggestions for so long.
Leaders need the right to make the final call, otherwise they won’t be able to do their job!
So, it’s important that you set clear boundaries about when open communication is appropriate, and when it isn’t. Make it clear when you will take suggestions, and when it isn’t appropriate.
Clear boundaries are important for leadership. To learn more about them, you can read the podcast episode at the link below.
Open communication is a great way to have greater control of your team, because people will come to you with important information. If your team stays silent all the time, you may not be aware of what is going on!
Try implementing these ideas in your team and see if you can create a culture of open communication.
How have you encouraged open communication in your team? Did it work? Leave a comment below and share your experience!