One of the difficult skills to master for the new manager is creating an atmosphere where employees feel there is open communication among the team. New managers confuse the term open communication with over communication. In fact, during our Essential Skills of Communicating course, we ask participants to agree or disagree with the following statement: “A team leader should not limit the amount of open communication allowed.” How would you answer that question? Agree or disagree? Most new managers disagree because they think this statement means that employees will spend their days in the manager’s office or cube “sharing” information.
We know from research that the foundation of great communication is openness. This means that employees have a safe place to have frank conversations without the fear of retribution. Open communication does more to develop a positive culture than just about anything else a manager can do.
Creating an environment of openness
So what does this climate of open communication look like. Managers need to work to develop a place:
- Where employees share opinions and ideas.
- Where there is a free exchange of information.
- Where conflict is looked at as a healthy part of the environment and it’s resolved productively.
- Where employees feel safe to take risks and propose changes that will improve processes.
All of these things contribute to the level of trust that occurs between the manger and the team. The more you communicate, the more communication you get from your people.
What to communicate
Knowing what to communicate is almost as important as the components of the open environment. Here’s the easy answer to that question. Communicate everything that you can. This is also scary for new managers. For a newly promoted manager, information can sometimes be seen as power. If you know something that no one else does, you hold the cards. This is a dangerous game to play. A former colleague of mine would use the oven analogy when it came to deciding what to communicate. She would say that if there is something in the oven, people can smell it. If you don’t tell them what’s in the oven, they will start to make up their own stories about what is in there. So with the obvious exceptions of personnel issues or items that you are not legally able to share because of contracts or rules that govern communication with shareholders, you should communicate early and often.
Even though creating this atmosphere of open communication is relatively easy concept to grasp, it is not always easy to achieve. It will take work to achieve and there will be roadblocks, both personal and organizationally, that will need to be dealt with in the process. You have to commit to making this a priority and continue to reinforce that this is a culture that is important to you and that you are living it by example.