Open Mind Policy- The Communications Key

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 22, 2009

Bill had been employed by the company for only two months at the time of the annual employee’s meeting. He had taken at face value management’s open invitation to discuss any problems or concerns.

He raised his hand and was recognized by the company’s general manager. The older employees sat silently as he started to speak. As a supervisor on the night shift, he was concerned that there weren’t enough tools for his maintenance men to do their jobs. “If we had the right tools when we need them”, he said, “we’d be able to improve our performance.”

The general manager sprung to the defense. “If the maintenance men took better care of the tools they were issued, we wouldn’t need to be buying more all the time. And besides, if you really do need more tools, all you have to do is fill out a requisition form and we’ll get them. A lack of tools should never be an excuse for poor performance.”

Well you can imagine how long it will be before another employee brings a problem to the attention of management. Bill learned his lesson quickly, unfortunately his boss hardly lets him forget. The general manager’s defensive reaction didn’t end with his answer. He periodically asks Bill, “do your men have all the tools they need”, as if to challenge him for a critical answer.

Every manager professes to have an open door policy, but there’s a big difference between an open door policy and an open minded manager. A manager who wants to learn from listening must exercise a great deal of self control. You’re going to hear a lot of things that you won’t like and a lot more that aren’t true.

Being an effective communicator involves more than fast talking. Every communication involves a transmission and a reception. We all learn from listening. It’s particularly important if you’re a manager. What you don’t hear can hurt you!

Before you can be a good listener, you must get somebody to talk to you. That’s not always as easy as it seems. Some managers and other authority figures often appear to be unapproachable. If you are seen as being “unsafe” to communicate with candidly, you have effectively cut yourself of from your best sources of information.

The general manager’s defensive reaction to Bill has become part of the corporate culture. As often as management may say we want to hear from you, their actions send another message. This is not a company where it’s worth the risk to speak up.

Effective managers encourage people to talk to them by rewarding them, not punishing them for their candor. An open mind, genuine interest, and a non judgmental response are welcome rewards to someone who takes the risk to speak their mind. Even when you don’t like the message, don’t kill the messenger.

You can subtly encourage others to share their thoughts with you by asking open ended questions. “What do you suggest we do?” “Is there anything that I can help you with?” Be sure that your non verbal communications, your body language and eye contact, are sending a consistent message that you are anxious to listen.

When people are ready to talk to you, you only have one more thing to do before you can start working on your listening skills. Stop talking! We all talk too much and listen too little. Don’t be afraid of silence. Be relaxed, patient and ready to listen. You’ll get the chance.

When somebody wants to talk to you, give them your full attention. Stopping what you are doing is the best indication that you can give that you are interested in what the other person has to say. Showing interest is the most immediate complement you can give a speaker.

Are you willing to withhold judgment about somebody’s idea until they have finished expressing it? If you don’t, you’ve reached a verdict before all the evidence has been heard. If a person hesitates while speaking, do you allow them to resume before you begin your response? If you don’t, you’ll never know what they might have told you.

The objective of communication is to achieve a common understanding. Take time to reflect on what you have heard prior to making a response. Summarizing what you have heard and restating it is an effective means of eliminating misunderstandings.

Because it’s your business, you’ll learn from listening. The better you listen, the more you’ll learn.

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