Open Communication - Laughing

Having a team that doesn’t communicate openly can be a terrible situation for a leader. Ideally, we want open flow of information, including issues, challenges, ideas and successes so that there are few surprises in the team and we can all keep improving.

So how do we go about encouraging open communication in our teams? Open communication enables team members to speak freely, offer suggestions and *gasp*, tell you when you might be wrong.

Related: To learn more about why we want people to speak up, go here: Why Your Team Won’t Speak Up, and Why You Need Them To.

How to Encourage Open Communication in Your Team

There are several ways to promote open communication in your team. Much of it comes down to behaviour, and it’s amazing how many leaders unintentionally do things that actually work against creating open communication.

1. Encourage Open Communication by Paying Attention

Open door policyPaying attention may sound obvious, but when you get this wrong, you actively discourage open communication.

Many leaders have an open door policy, but there is a difference between having an open door and people actually walking inside.

Even seemingly trivial, small signs show people that you want to hear what they have to say. To show that you are paying attention, try the following:

  • Eliminate distractions – put your electronic devices on silent mode, turn them face down or turn them off
  • Make eye contact
  • Postpone the discussion if you can’t have it right now
  • Practice active listening.

Paying attention shows people that you are interested in listening and encouraging open communication.

2. Encourage Open Communication by Asking For Suggestions

open communication - ideasThere is nothing wrong with 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, try your best to adopt it where possible. Obviously it would be silly to take on every idea that people have. 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, explain the reasons why.

Whatever you do, don’t accept the idea, thank them for coming and then ignore it completely. They will only take that as a sign that you don’t really care about what they have to say.

3. 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’s implemented successfully, publicly give them credit for it.

This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often this is overlooked, even unintentionally.

Taking the credit cartoon

Insecure leaders will be fearful that their superiors will think that their team member is more valuable than them, which is why they sometimes take the credit. If you’re that insecure, then perhaps your team member *is* better qualified to do your job.

Related: For more about insecure leaders, read this post: Are You an Insecure Leader? Watch for These 10 Signs.

4. Encourage Open Communication by Engaging With Your Team Often, In Different Forums

“But at the monthly team meeting nobody said they didn’t like the idea!”

Perhaps your team members are uncomfortable raising their objections in a crowded forum of their peers. This is why you need to offer team members multiple ways to raise their opinion without feeling exposed.

This could be by encouraging private conversations, in addition to group meetings. The open door policy allows people to come and talk in private when they need to. If you sense that they feel uncomfortable in the office, change the scenery by going for coffee instead.

Remember that not all team members are created equal. Some people will offer their opinion easily whilst others will be less comfortable with open communication. It’s your job to help them become more comfortable.

Related: 5 Communication Mistakes That Will Damage Your Leadership.

5. Start Accepting and Acting On Feedback

Along with paying attention, you can also encourage open communication by accepting feedback. Not only do you need to accept it, you need to act on it if necessary.

If there are things that you’re doing that are making people unhappy or uncomfortable, you need to take action if you can.

The worst thing you can do is listen to the 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 create the opposite of open communication with your team.

Resource: If you want to improve your communication and leadership skills and develop your leadership career, click here to learn more about Thoughtful Leader Coaching Services.

How have you encouraged open communication in your team? Did it work? Leave a comment below – I‘d love to read them.

Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.