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Open Communication At Work – Why We Need It And How To Improve It
Communication is really at the center of the workplace. It guides our relationships with our colleagues, the work that we do and ultimately molds our careers.
While communication in the workplace might be inevitable, a difference remains between good, open communication and poor, closed-off communication. Open communication is when team members are encouraged to share their opinions, thoughts, and beliefs – without fear of being criticized or ridiculed. Closed communication is when one person does most of the talking, and other people don’t have much of a chance to give their input.
To put this in perspective, let’s visualize these two scenarios. So picture this – you work in an office where the person who does most of the talking is your boss. And asking questions, trying out new ideas, or giving your opinion, is met with dismissal.
Contrast that workplace to one where you are encouraged to chat with your peers and superiors alike, and you’re told to ask questions freely and express your opinions and thoughts. Not only will this make you feel like you belong and that your contribution matters, but it will also benefit the workplace and help achieve its strategic goals.
There are actually lots of benefits to open communication in the workplace. Here are our top 5:
1. Reduce error
When a team is unlikely to communicate effectively, misunderstandings are likely to ensue. And misunderstandings usually lead to errors that need to be corrected. For example, imagine that you get an unclear direction. Instead of being afraid of appearing incompetent if you ask for further clarification, you feel confident that your questions will be met with respect and understanding. Asking questions means that you avoid making assumptions about something and avoid taking a wrong turn in the first place.
2. More input results in better outcomes
When people feel encouraged to communicate at work, they’re more likely to give their opinion and input. Better results come from varied perspectives. But people will only be willing to share their viewpoint if they feel it’s appreciated and valued. Just because someone has worked their way to the top doesn’t mean that their opinion matters the most. One example of why multiple opinions matter is participatory decision-making. Participatory decision-making is a process that gives ownership of decisions to the whole team, coming to a solution that everyone can agree on. And it has been shown to produce the best management outcomes.
3. Creates job satisfaction
Organizations promoting open and accessible communication within a team and between superiors and employees see less employee turnover. By valuing employees and our teammates’ insights and ideas, we motivate them to be more engaged, work harder, and feel appreciated. Therefore, strengthening loyalty and trust, which ultimately contributes to greater job satisfaction.
4. Fostering strong relationships
When employees feel that they can openly communicate with each other, and their superiors, better personal and professional relationships are formed. Resulting in a friendly environment, where jealousy, competition, and indifference can be put aside in favor of collaboration and innovation. When you like the people you work with personally, you’re more likely to stay in your job longer, be more motivated to work harder, and constructively collaborate with your peers.
5. Increase productivity
Open communication in a team usually means that everyone will be aligned to the goals, objectives, and vision of the team and the organization. This is because they will be clear on what the organization needs from them, and feel free to ask questions if there is any confusion. Employees will be able to deliver better work and increase workplace productivity.
So now it’s clear – open communication in the workplace is important and has a lot of benefits. But if effective communication isn’t already happening in our workplace, how do we make it happen?
First, it might be helpful to understand the barriers to effective open communication. According to a study published in the Global Journal of Commerce & Management Perspective, there are two main barriers to communication – environmental barriers and personal barriers.
Environmental barriers are the characteristics of the organization and its environment. An example of an environmental barrier is the effect of power or status relationships on communication. Say a staff member doesn’t feel comfortable communicating to their boss that a project isn’t going to plan. This barrier to communication leads to further consequences for the team and organization.
Personal barriers result from an individual’s beliefs and values, based on their socio-economic background, and previous experiences. One example of a personal barrier that could hinder communication in the workplace is among coworkers of different generations. As younger generations enter the workforce, it can be a challenge to navigate the different perspectives, beliefs, and communication styles that they bring.
Understanding barriers to communication allows us to reflect on communication more objectively. By having a greater understanding of the environment and personal attributes of an organization and our colleagues, we can approach communication in a way that will be constructive and meaningful.
Here are some tips for how to encourage open communication within your team to overcome any barriers:
1. Set up weekly one-on-one meetings
Usually, the most difficult type of open communication is between employees and their bosses. But if you set up a quick weekly meeting with your direct reports to check in on how they’re doing, what they need from you, and if they have any ideas on the work being done, you’re not only giving them a safe space to openly communicate, but you’re developing a deeper relationship too. They’ll begin to feel more comfortable engaging in a similar way beyond one-on-one meetings, because they feel safe and confident that their contributions matter.
2. Informal social excursions
Another way to get your team closer together, and more likely to collaborate, is to encourage outside-of-work hang-outs. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or complicated. Even hosting a regular happy hour Friday after work gives your employees the opportunity to bond outside of the office. Building these bonds will get them comfortable with one another, so when it does come time to make magic happen at work, they feel free to speak their mind and work together.
3. Update on the strategic mission
One of the most important aspects of a productive team is being on the same page when it comes to the company’s goals and objectives. Having open and clear communication is important for executing the tasks that contribute to achieving that ultimate goal. Everyone needs to understand what they’re working towards and feel comfortable openly discussing any thoughts, objections, and ideas they may have to achieve that faster, or even go above and beyond that goal.
4. Explicitly ask for your team’s input – on everything
Whenever a new idea comes to the table, or a project is coming about, take notice of who is holding back or not speaking up. Encourage them, in a respectful, gentle way to give their opinion. It can be as simple as saying, “Kim, do you have any thoughts on xyz?” or “Anything else to add on this?” When you ask someone pointedly for their opinion or ideas, they will feel valued and appreciated. When your team contributes, make sure to thank them, show your appreciation, and take their ideas into consideration. This encourages them to keep it up.
The people in our teams were hired for a reason. They have something insightful to add, and we need their contributions to achieve the organization’s ultimate goals. Sometimes, the workplace culture, environment, or team members are not as conducive to open communication as they could be. However, with some simple approaches and tips, your team will be on their way to speaking up when those lightbulbs go off.