Work Culture: How to promote open communication in the workplace?

Updated: 4 months ago
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The single biggest problem in communication—George Bernard Shaw said—is the illusion that it has taken place.

Soul of a successful business lies in clear communication. Workplaces with open communication from management to employees see growth and thrive well.

On the other hand, poor communication practices mar business groups and prove costly in many ways.

What is open communication?

When the information about a new product launch, the latest acquisition, financial figures are known and understood to the employees clearly, consider the communication in the organization healthy and smooth. In an environment with excellent communication, staff members do not hesitate to raise concerns, propose ideas or logically negate a statement. This brings in employee engagement and increases the happiness quotient of the workforce.

Surveys revealed that employees hesitate to talk to the managers openly due to:

  • Fear of being laughed at,
  • Feel embarrassed to put forward their suggestions,
  • More often, the managers disregard their ideas,
  • Questions are passed with counter-questions or,
  • Remain unanswered or twisted,
  • Opinions are not weighed for the potential.

Today is always the right time to open channels for leveraging communication between the management and the employees.

How is open communication beneficial at workplace?

Lack in communication builds anxiety among the employees, a feeling of being neglected and eventually develops cynicism about the organization. So, an open work culture should be established which promotes the staff to reach out to the higher executives to raise grievance and voice out opinions. Proper communication allows the workforce to feel their voice welcomed.

An organization might miss some out-of-the-box innovations if avenues are not opened for employees to express themselves.

The art of communication is the language of leadership.” - James Humes, Lawyer.

How to promote open communication in the workplace?

1.  Show, don’t tell

Perhaps, no other advice surpassed ‘show, don’t tell’ when it comes to fiction writing. And the same goes to the management too. Leaders who offer their juniors to walk through a complex task instead of mumbling about it in jargons always develop a chord and open the two-way road to communicate.

Managers who sit with the teams during a learning session go a long way to offer them advice and build camaraderie. After all, actions speak louder than empty words.

2.  Ask, don’t assume

Assumptions are a big hurdle in the way to communicate openly. If you have a question about an employee’s performance, ask away instead of giving way to your perception. Asking a demotivated employee “What is it bothering you” makes more sense than just assuming that they are not working well enough and are not involved anymore.

3.  Give a chance to open-ended questions

Politely ask questions with what, how and avoid why. For a situation, ask your team members what their opinion is and how do they wish to accomplish the task instead of asking defensive questions starting with why. Open-ended questions bring out more information and can help to understand a problem better. However, when you shield the thoughts of your team asking them ‘why’, the result would be filtered for obvious reasons.

4.  Make room for skip level, open houses and town halls

Skip level meetings allow junior members to open up with the boss’s supervisor or executives at a higher level directly without the presence of the boss. Such meetings facilitate the flow of ideas and many unanticipated organization level problems come out into light during the course of unhindered discussions.

Open house and Town Halls make roads to pour insights about new ventures, sales figures, acquisitions and revenues to the people sitting at the lower bands of the org pyramids who are mostly busy in their day-to-day jobs but would be very happy to know more about their organization’s status. Such open forums also make employees feel connected.

These communication procedures are mostly taken care at the macro level.

5.  Transparent communication process

Managers should adopt and be adept at transparent methods for communications. Any news in the market about the organization would create a stir among the employees. So, if organizations take the initiative to share a weekly newsletter at org level, department level or vertical level in collaboration with managers and HRs, all the cloudy news will clear out, and Employees will feel connected.

Likewise, managers should also take a step to inform employees about the significant news on projects and clients otherwise a missing piece of data culminates to gossips.

6.  Acknowledge the issues and opinions

Firms can put in place, grievance systems to address the problems and discontent at micro and macro levels. Anonymity should be promoted so that the real picture can come out.

Similarly, the opinions of the employees matter a lot for clear communication. Open door policy helps employees—both new and seasoned—to voice out their sentiments without following the hierarchy, which cascades the information faster, and to the right person helping to inculcate and nurture a transparent work culture.

7.  Surveys

Usually, surveys are anonymously transparent, but the results are opaque. Hidden!

Survey results should be cascades, and resultant flaws should be addressed as quickly as possible. Nowadays, most of the organizations implement surveys and aim to solve the problems but survey outcomes—if announced—make the polls and studies appear genuine.

At the micro level, leadership team and HRs should also attempt to survey their teams regularly just by simple emails and one-to-one communication.

8.  Collaboration

Communication is not a one-way path. It is not about management vs. teams. Communication demands collaboration. Everyone should open up to give ideas and receive feedback otherwise conflict will spread its roots, and the attempts to establish a healthy culture can fall on its face.

Initiatives by executives are needed, but at the same time, employees should support the organization by being engaged, raising concerns timely and propelling innovative thoughts. They should fill all the surveys in time, participate in the meetings and exchange notions.

9.  Interact with distributed team periodically

Distributed teams are a big challenge for the management to handle and bind together. Keeping all the team members on the same page by threading them through video conferencing and regular interaction is the key. Connectedness brings oneness and a feeling of bonding.

10.  Promote diverse culture

Teams never have similar people. Diversity and inclusion are the mantras for organizations to succeed. Nurturing diverse culture, hiring women skepticism and third gender without along with differently enabled workforce shows the open culture and a progressive mindset.

Such a culture promotes a swift flow of communication.

11.  Coffee talks

Although considered gossip and time waste, indulging in talks at coffee points can open gates to conversations that usually not see the light of the day. Managers can reap benefits of such moments to go beyond ‘hey, what’s up buddy?’ to better open-ended questions beyond work. Personalization in communication matters.

Also, this 5-10 minutes break allows employees to discuss topics other than work that are not always useless gossip. So, allow them to enjoy their break time without any interference.

12.  Bottom-up feedback

What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback.  Don't forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.” - Anonymous

So, never allow only the top-down approach to communication. Let the information flow bottom-up too. You might not know, who will propose a brilliant solution for a long pending problem. Also, feedback during yearly evaluation should include an approach to drive assessment of higher levels by the subordinates.

Final words

To bring in transparency and two-way communication at the offices is a long process, which needs collaboration from management, employees, and HRs. However, open communication is not an impossible task and would show results if done correctly.

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