The ability to achieve an open dialogue with employees is one of the hardest skills to master, and yet is a critical skill for a manager to master if they want to become a true leader.
When open communication is common-place in the organisation, employees will feel engaged and free to implement creative and innovative solutions to workplace problems.
While many leaders have an innate talent for communication, others may need to practice vital communication strategies. To create an open dialogue, the manager must be willing to listen to the point of view of others.
Rather than waiting for the employee to finish talking, leaders should engage in active listening, nodding or using short statements to convey to the speaker that they understand the message they are trying to convey.
The leader should never interrupt the employee as they speak or make disparaging or dismissive comments regarding their perspective, and should provide feedback in a constructive manner.
Once leaders have perfected their active listening skills, they can begin to integrate open communication into the organisational culture.
Employees should be actively encouraged to regularly communicate with each other and with their supervisors, and it should be made clear that communication will be rewarded, not punished.
To encourage an open dialogue, the structure of meetings should be changed from the traditional top-down model of managers providing information to employees to include a bottom-up feedback session.
Managers can ask broad questions, such as “What would you like to see changed?”, but may be able to get employees to open up more easily with specifically targeted questions.
A tried and true method for beginning an open dialogue with a reluctant participant is to use a multiple-choice format. For instance, when discussing poor performance with an employee, asking whether they are having personal or professional difficulties is more likely to lead to a productive conversation than simply asking why their performance has decreased.
Similarly, providing criticisms sandwiched between two complements can encourage employees to use feedback for improvement without seeing comments as a personal slight.
If employees still seem reluctant to communicate feedback, organising a peer feedback session over a company-provided lunch may encourage a more open dialogue, especially if managers are not present.
Employees feel that they have at least some anonymity when feedback is presented in the form of a group consensus, and this safety net often allows employees to disclose complaints they would otherwise keep to themselves.
If employees are reluctant to communicate even in peer settings, the use of anonymous surveys may provide an opportunity to ease the transition into open dialogue and to discover the root cause of resistance to the new culture of communication.
By taking steps to encourage open communication with employees, including the ability to discuss both personal and professional factors that affect their work, leaders will soon notice that employees are willing to provide valuable insights into their work methods and the effectiveness of their supervisors.
When employees feel that their opinions and perspectives are valued and heard, their increase in engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction will be readily apparent.
Head of Training and Development
Originally published: 15 October, 2014