Boss Lady

Dear managers: Stop encouraging unhealthy silence


If your employees aren’t speaking up, do you assume “no news is good news” or do you see warning signs?

With statistics showing that a majority of employees and almost as many managers avoid communicating or speaking up, communication challenges are not only wide-scale but potentially very costly and destructive to the business.

On the flip side, an engaged workforce that includes open, collaborative and innovative communication practices can increase productivity, employee retention, and return on investment.

What is required in order to successfully transform unhealthy silence into healthy communication? Here are 5 key strategies to implement open and authentic communication practices in your organization:

Examine your own approach to communication

Do you avoid uncomfortable conversations, addressing conflicts or dealing with negative aspects of feedback and information sharing? Do you seek out opportunities and support initiatives for increasing communication and idea sharing in the business? As a manager, you are a leader in the business. The tone you set, others will follow. If you are unaware of or unwilling to give attention to your own communication practices, your ability to change it in the business will also be limited.

Are you willing to challenge your own perspectives and make changes that empower you and others to achieve open communication?

The golden rule of no judgment

Most people don’t speak up because they are afraid of the judgment or reaction they will be met with for voicing their concerns, opinions or ideas. Learn to be openly receptive to all feedback, comments and information by functioning from this golden rule: What if nobody (and no point of view) is right or wrong, just different?

Conflict occurs when people get fixed on believing that one perspective is right, and another is wrong. Rather than approach discussion information, ideas, or feedback in terms of good and bad, right or wrong, listen to all perspectives without making any of it significant and acknowledge that there are just different perspectives at play.

From there, you can encourage productive communication by asking more questions:
What requires changing, and what are the ideas to change them?
What can I say or ask that would allow and empower my staff/team to make effective changes and different choices?

How can we use all these perspectives to create something greater in the business?

Asking questions and receiving all perspectives without judgment, bias or agenda creates a foundation of mutual regard, openness, and respect – which is fundamental to successful and ongoing communication and engagement.

Increase transparency through curiosity and collaboration

When people become manager or bosses, they can mistakenly believe that they now must have all the answers for their people. What if it is your ability to ask questions and facilitate more avenues for everybody’s ideas, knowledge and experience (including your own) to be shared for the benefit of all?

Increase transparency, overall business awareness, and create opportunities for collaboration amongst employees beyond just their job-level, team, or department.

Some ways you can do this include:

  • Implementing one-on-one meeting for staff and managers, where the employee gets to share their awareness on what is and isn’t working, and solutions to change it.
  • Holding “skip-level” meetings, where the manager’s boss gets to meet with their employees.
  • Bringing in people from different departments to share information as well as have the opportunity to receive/offer ideas from an “outsider” point of view.

Turn complaints into creative conversations

What if all problems could be turned into a possibility or opportunity? Many times, when we come up against issues or challenges, it is easy to complain about what is wrong, but we can be hesitant or resistant when it comes to offering solutions. Rather than trying to stop or limit complaints or negative feedback, encourage employees to voice a concern with the additional requirement of contributing ideas for changing that problem into an opportunity. A simple question that encourages people to flip their thinking is: If this wasn’t a problem, what possibility would it be?

When things are working, ask how it can get even better

Speaking up isn’t just about being willing to voice the negative or uncomfortable, or dealing with problems in a healthy way – the really fun part of having everyone willing to share their voice in business is the creativity and innovation that can become an intrinsic part of the work culture. Everybody has unique perspectives and valuable information, and employees have diverse knowledge across the business. The question is, are you accessing it and using all of it to your advantage?

Even when things are working well – they can be even better. What do you and the people in your organization know that can continuously add to and expand the business? What forums for innovation and ideas can be implemented to encourage this?

The quality of communication in your business relies not just on having you and your employees willing to break unhealthy silence and speak up, but to put attention and value on encouraging open innovation and creative idea sharing. This can easily be facilitated by staying clear of polarizing thinking, judgment or bias, and asking questions that ignite curiosity and innovative thinking; as well as creating inclusive opportunities for knowledge and ideas to be shared and contributed to the wider business. Follow these principles and you will empower all the voices in your company to enhance the business in unexpected and surprising ways.

About Laleh Alemzadeh-Hancock

Laleh Hancock is a transformational facilitator and business coach with more than 25 years of experience building companies and individuals that win. Whether partnering with a Fortune 500 company or an entrepreneurial stay home mum, Laleh is dedicated to empowering people and organizations of all ages and stages to grow and expand. Laleh is a certified Facilitator for Access Consciousness, including Joy of Business, a specialty program of Access Consciousness. She meets people where they are and provides practical tools to empower people to create more joy, ease and possibilities in life. Laleh served on the Governor’s Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council for four years. Follow on Twitter at @Belapemo.

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