The leader sets the climate for communication in the workplace ... good, bad or indifferent!
Your personal style and the things you focus upon will dictate whether your team has open free-flowing communication, up, down and sideways. Or, whether it is pinched off and harming your team's performance.
Below are a few of the elements you can control, no matter the style of organization you work for, and which will either help or hinder how actively involved your people are.
Have You Built an Environment of Trust?
People won't engage freely until they believe they can trust you and you have their best interests at heart. How well do you know your people? Do you know what concerns them, what excites them, what their career goals are? Are you doing anything to support them overcome their challenges and build on their strengths?
Do your people believe that you have got their back and you'll be there with them in good times and bad?
Do you people feel that if they come to you with 'bad' news or conflicting viewpoints that they won't be punished?
Read more about trust in the workplace.
Which End Of The Camaraderie Stick Do You Sit At?
Are you remote, sticking strictly to business, sitting in your office handing out work, kudos and brick bats?
Or, are you sitting in an open plan office, working with your people and knowing intimately what their frustrations and concerns are?
Either end of the spectrum has its challenges and its strengths.
If you are more on the remote end, it is likely that people don't feel they know you. When people feel they don't know you they are wary and keep their distance.
If you are a leader who tends not to get to know people personally, and like to keep your distance, you will likely pay the penalty of having poor communication in the workplace. There's a high probability that the people reporting to you know 'stuff' that you should be aware of, but that they don't bother to share because they can't see a gain in it for them and/or they don't care about your success.
Think about it, if you have neighbors down the street that you barely acknowledge as you drive past their home, will they be there to support you in time of need? Unlike the neighbor next door - that you regularly have barbecues with and your kids are friendly - if you have a time of need they will, in all likelihood, be right there for you. The workplace is no different!
Do you have an 'open door policy'? Anyone can come to you when they want? The challenge with the open door is that you have an artificial barrier that people may not break. Imagine this, your neighbor says to you when you first move into the street, "Look pop in whenever you want, we have an open house policy." Then they wander off and you see them occasionally to wave at or say the odd hello and natter about the weather - but it never goes further than that.
Are you likely to take them up on their 'open house' offer? It is highly unlikely - because
a) you don't know them,
b) you don't have any common ground,
c) you don't want to feel like you are imposing.
In the office similar sentiments hold true.
The boss's office is his or her territory. And if people don't know you well they are unlikely to 'invade' your space and or feel comfortable bringing up and or confiding about 'issues'. They don't know you and don't know how you'll respond.
Certainly, if you are more along the open office end of the spectrum that is a good thing ... but be careful about being too familiar. You don't need to share ALL your deepest darkest secrets with your team members.
It is important that they know you and feel a connection to you. They they see you as more than a 'boss' and that you see them as more than an 'employee'. BUT you also do need to make sure that you have a quiet place that you can go to - to think and plan. That you have boundaries around what you share and that it is clear that you are the leader - even though you may often share your leadership with them.
Walk & Talk To Discuss Sticky Subjects
I encourage many of the leaders I coach to instigate the practice of 'walk and talk'. For example, say you have a 'sticky' subject that you want to raise with somebody. Rather than sitting in your office, where the energy doesn't have anywhere to go, think about inviting the person to go with a walk with you. The very act of walking shifts energy. Helps you to think more clearly AND takes you into an environment where the 'power' position is somewhat neutralized.
In addition, if you are having a 'tricky' conversation in YOUR office, the 'hidden' power is definitely with you - because this is your claimed territory - and walking and talking is a good way of busting this barrier.
Have You Built An Environment Of Safety?
Communication in the workplace is rock-solid when people feel secure and confident.
Who likes being judged and found wanting? No-one. Be a leader who applauds your people's strengths and accepts their weaknesses and finds ways to work around them.
People will like and accept you, and are more likely to be engaged and participating when they feel they are liked and accepted.
How do you respond when people make mistakes? Are you accusatory and cross? Or, are you more inclined to help the person learn from their mistake and move forward? Read more about what to do when people make mistakes.
Don't start a conversation with "Why did you do that?". You'll keep communication open and flowing if you say something liked "Help me to understand your thinking about ....". Can you see how by just softening the question a little you'll be more likely to keep the person engaged and less apprehensive?
Have You Built An Environment of Clarity
Breakdowns in communication in the workplace occur when you are vague and/or assume people get the message the first time. Your people need you to clearly paint the picture of what is required and/or what is happening.
A mistake I've seen many leaders make is to assume that people 'get' the message the first time around. Depending upon the situation, sometimes you'll need to reinforce the message in a variety of ways - verbally, written, video. And, sometimes you'll need to say it in a slightly different way.
Think about the climate you are creating. Is what you are doing and the type of leader you are helping or hindering the open flow of communication in your workplace?
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