Open Communication

Author: Michael Merritt

Have you ever wandered what drove a coworker to make a decision?  Ever felt like a person or group wasn’t willing to share things on a work-related topic?  Or felt like things were being kept from you in the workplace?  The answer to these questions is Open Communication.

What is Open Communication?

  • Open Communication: A message in which the sender and receiver share all the necessary information for both to complete their task; no hidden agenda or misinterpretation.
  • Effective Communication: A message in which the receiver understands the message as the sender intended.

Pretty simple right, but what if a message fails to meet both criteria? For example…

What if I told you, “You’re welcome to have some of my lunch…” but I left out the part about me being sick, or that it was already past the expiration date.  The fact that I have no problem sharing with you was received clearly and understood.  Thus, it was effective, however by not providing all pertinent information I was not open and, as such, you didn’t have all the needed info…

Same scenario, but in this case, I called you to let you know about lunch, “You’re welcome to have some of my lunch, but I’m a bit under the weather so you may not want to…”.  All necessary information was shared, but say the receiver was busy typing an email and planning what they wanted to say next (not actively listening), and they only heard the part about free lunch?  My communication was open; but it was not understood as in intended.  Thus, is was not effective – it takes both parties to make communication successful.

Sure, the lunch example is corny and not business related but it should shed some light on why we must practice good communication.   If it influences a potential lunch decision imagine the impact it has on our culture, our performance and on each other!  Open communication happens in a team when its members are empowered to share their thoughts without any fear of repercussions. It’s not a one-off phenomenon. It’s a cultural trait that teams cultivate with practice…transforming employees into co-entrepreneurs.  When this occurs, people raise problems rather than covering them up and accountability is boosted because people are not afraid of being penalized by a mistake.  They can own it!

To sum up, here are a few tips to boost your communication:

Be approachable and assertive simultaneously – they are not mutually exclusive!  People should feel safe talking to you, but you must also communicate in a direct way that is not misunderstood.

Listen actively – make a conscious effort to hear clearly, understand and retain the information being provided.  It may help to repeat certain things even occasionally or ask for clarification to ensure you’re getting the message as intended.

  • Get to know others on a personal level – it’s harder to be transparent and unguarded with people you don’t know.
  • Get information from others. For example, rather than asking “any questions” after presenting to a group, instead ask “Each of you give me a question about the material…”
  • Be observant and self-aware (Emotional Intelligence or EQ) – understand your audience as well as your own actions/words and how they effect a situation.
  • Be flexible – we’re all individuals with our own likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies. Try a new method to get your point across and understand their point of view.
  • Avoid “yes or no” questions – we don’t learn anything about each other without dialogue.

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