You are doing all the right things. You don’t shoot the messenger, you understand you can’t observe why. You ask questions and make sure people feel heard when they talk to you. And yet the information you need to know is not getting to you. Your employees or athletes are afraid to talk. What is the deal?
It is important to realize that many of us have learned not to be very trusting. When someone says, “I have an open door policy. You can talk to me anytime about anything.” we ‘know’ anything we say can and will be used against us. If you are trying to change that perception it is going to take awhile and you are going to have to be really consistent. If someone is brave enough to talk to you, reward that behavior.
There are other aspects to employees and athletes not wanting to talk to their boss or coach. One is their teammates. Sometimes there is a very us/them mentality on teams and the boundary between can be daunting. If you have emotional leaders on your team who don’t believe it is safe to talk, they will make the whole team believe it isn’t safe. If you can, figure out who those leaders are. Talk to them. For heaven sake don’t accuse them of anything (that would be proving them right). Ask them how you can work together to make the team great. If you can get those leaders on your side they will bring positive news back to the team. Soon enough others will be brave and start sharing their ideas. If you have an emotional leader who is toxic, you have a different problem on your hands (we will talk about that in a few weeks).
Sometimes the boundary keeping people from feeling safe is physical. Do you have an office with four walls and a door? Even if you keep that door open you are expecting people to walk into your space to talk to you. If your schedule is always so full that they have to make an appointment to see you it is even less likely they will talk openly with you. Make yourself available. Walk around, talk to them, get to know them as people. Put everyone’s name in a hat and randomly pick out three people at a time to invite to lunch.
When you have team meetings do you always sit at the head of the table and run the meeting? If so, your team will look to you to supply the answers rather than being creative and coming up with solutions on their own. Have someone else run the meeting and sit somewhere else. If it is an option get rid of the table and just be a group in a circle. When I work with athletes is it not uncommon for me to sit on the floor with them. If you can make yourself physically one of them your team will be more likely to accept you and open up to you. And don’t worry, your authority and their respect will not be tarnished.
Another great option is to give people the option to share their ideas anonymously. Suggestion boxes, feedback letterhead, whatever the case maybe. When you get a useful suggestion make a big deal about it. Talk about it in meetings, use it, make changes based on it. You want to do everything in your power to make the person who gave you the suggestion want to take credit for it. That is a small step toward being willing to share things with you directly.
Do you have examples of how to create a safe environment? Maybe you have seen someone shutdown communication. Make a comment, share with us!
Next week: Do you know how you like to be spoken to? Can you articulate it to others?
Do you know how to make others feel heard? Check out last week’s topic for tips and ideas for being a better listener.
A quick shout out to my ‘little’ sister – Happy Bday Dee!
Tags :be heard, Champion Performance Development, communication, Doc Robyn, effective communication, open door, Robyn Odegaard, safe environment, share an idea, share ideas, sharing ideas, speak up, speaking up