With all the excitement and intrigue swirling around the office lately, I thought open communication in the workplace would be the perfect subject for this week’s blog post. I was all ready to get started, but then my dear friend Mr. Knightley insisted on taking over. Way to show initiative, Alex!
A lot of businesses and organizations say good communication is one of their top priorities, and for good reason. These days, it’s common knowledge that a culture of trust, loyalty and openness among your teammates is an essential part of working well together and building strong relationships.
But like all good advice, this is easier said than done. Even if the people around you all share the same values and goals, personality clashes and office politics can get in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish. If you want a tightly-knit team and a healthy, productive work environment, you need to make sure everyone is comfortable voicing their opinions in their own way, and confident they will be listened to and taken seriously.
Good relationships, personal or professional, are built on a foundation of trust. So whether you’re taking on a new project together or looking for ways to weed out problems and improve performance, make sure you handle things in a way that encourages openness and honesty.
With my friends and co-workers, I’ve always found that being direct is the best approach. If you have a concern or a question that needs answering, go directly to the person involved, get the issue out into the open and don’t hide your real motives. This may seem like an intimidating idea, especially for people who don’t like conflict, but I can say from experience that in the long run it’s a lot less hassle than relying on guesswork and secondhand information.
The office rumor mill is an easy trap to fall into. I’d be lying if I said I never enjoyed a bit of gossip around the water cooler, but I fight that urge whenever I can. A culture of secrecy and gossip can build up bad feelings and distrust, which makes people reluctant to put their ideas out there and drags down your team’s efficiency.
Instead, look for ways to engage with people and draw out their thoughts and opinions. Informal weekly meetings or brainstorming sessions could be a good place to start, or you could set up a shared document where people can write down their ideas and concerns. However you approach it, invite honest feedback and don’t get defensive. Everyone will feel more comfortable and productive when they’re all on the same page.
Listen and learn
It’s really important to be open to different points of view, even when you think you’ve got everything figured out – especially when you think that, actually. Always make a point to listen to people, and don’t forget to pay attention to nonverbal cues. If someone is tense or fidgety when you’re around them, it may be a sign that you’re making them uncomfortable and you need to change your approach.
Different people have different communication styles, so give them the benefit of the doubt and be patient. A person who comes across as rude or distant could actually be introverted and shy, and someone who seems pushy might just be eager to learn more about you and become your friend. Getting past that initial awkwardness could be the first step to a great working relationship.
That said, in any relationship it’s important to know each other’s boundaries and respect them. There are some aspects of a person’s life that they may not feel comfortable sharing even with their family and friends, and pushing them to spill their secrets when they’re not ready will only make things weird.
Remember, trust grows over time, so don’t rush it.