How to Foster Two-Way Communication with Your Team

As I have often written about, communication is essential when it comes to organizational success. However, improving the flow of communication is not as simple as waving a magic wand.

Today, more than ever, leaders need to have open and honest two-way communication with their people, to create meaningful engagement.  Encouraging others to speak up is not straightforward as you may think because the old status quo has taught people to just “do their job” and “keep to themselves”.

In order for real, authentic communication to take place, empowering others is key. That means you need to work on changing the entire culture of your organization so that everyone feels comfortable in their roles, with providing input, offering feedback, and imparting their experience just as you should be.

Working to communicate as a team can be challenging though, because of the “pecking order” that is naturally part of the corporate hierarchy. So, in the beginning, you may not get the whole truth from your people, but as I’ve said many times, leaders need to be self-aware and mindful and model the type of behavior they expect from others. If you are open, honest, and truly value others being the same way, then you are well on your way to having a more communicative team and organization.

So, how do you begin creating an empowering and welcoming cultural environment where everyone is comfortable speaking their mind and sharing freely? 

Why People Are Silent at Work

To further illustrate the challenge, research shows that people are intimidated by those in authority and explores how top-down culture affects teams and organizations. That is why people are naturally inclined to filter their communication when it flows upward through the chain of command.

Employees often communicate with multiple people on different projects, and if the communication flowing to them is even a little ambiguous, they may opt to work in ambiguity vs. reaching out for clarity from their respective leader. Often, this lack of communication leads to confusion, wasted effort, missed deadlines, and ultimately poor customer service.

Similarly, if an employee is experiencing a problem, you may not hear about it right away. Likely, the problem has been hidden from you out of fear for your potential negative response or perceived consequences. This is obviously not ideal and can create a culture built on lack of trust, which will only sap employee morale which causes a ripple effect as mentioned above.

As a leader, it is largely up to you to develop awareness around the flow of communication within your team and organization. You must have a sense of when ideas and information are flowing freely, but you should also be able to tell when people have gone silent on you. 

My advice is to take note when people are being notably tight-lipped around an issue. This is the time to encourage open communication that will not be met with consequences (either in the moment or down the road). Whatever the issue is, you can resolve it with dignity and respect. This will go a long way to putting a stop to hesitancy on the part of employees.

Encourage Honesty

In a perfect organizational world, everyone would feel safe to share their honest feedback and perspective, but sadly that has not been the norm in most companies.

What we are really talking about here is valuing people. Not just what they do, but how they think and feel, and how they contribute to the organization’s goals and objectives. Therefore, encouraging others to have their say and be completely candid should be as high on the corporate ROI scale as any profits you have achieved.

Be kind, and mindful in your approach. Encourage and acknowledge that speaking up is encouraged and show how it links to your organizational values of teamwork and respect. You may find yourself having to continuously provide ongoing reassurances and that is okay. In the long run, your people will begin to develop trust and the real sense that they are free to speak up without repercussions. 

Put Yourself in Their Shoes 

If you are not open and honest with others, why should they be with you? You are blocking the flow of communication (and work) throughout the organization when you hold back and limit yourself.

On the other hand, if you are willing to be vulnerable and share what you really think, it will provide a model of excellent communication that your people are sure to follow. Simply said: Display the behavior you want to see. Here is a thought: reward those who speak up with more responsibility. Be sure to praise them publicly and stand behind your word when you tell your people that you prefer them to be honest.

Are You Building a Culture of Communication?

Have you struggled with building a more communicative culture within your team or organization? What ideas have you tried?

Have you had some success in some areas? What worked that you could build on? And what can you re-engineer around your approach to communication that fits our changed workplace?

I value having an open, honest, and confidential discussion with you on the subject. Feel free to reach out to me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca or call me at 1.855.871.3374. I am looking forward to hearing from you!


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