How to create open dialog with your employees

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In most companies a wall has been built between supervisors and employees. This wall creates a barrier that hinders true communication. Without ongoing, genuine communication between management and employees the workplace will never reach its full potential or be a satisfying environment in which to work. Employees need to feel comfortable discussing important workplace issues with their supervisors. Here are steps you can take to reduce the barriers to facilitate effective two-way communication:

Evaluate your approachability. Employees may not approach you because you display one of these negative traits:

  • You criticize employees for things they do incorrectly. Even if in your mind you consider it playful teasing, employees may not see it that way and find it hurtful or embarrassing when you throw out little barbs.
  • You are often overbearing when approached. If you are loud, interrupt them, cut them off before they finish a sentence, or jump to conclusions before they completely state their case, employees may figure it’s no use trying to talk to you.
  • You are in a bad mood most of the time. As a manager or supervisor you have a lot of things on your mind and a lot of pressing responsibilities. Employees do not want to be the victims of anger that may have nothing to do with their performance.

If you are unaware of your tendencies to create these barriers, ask a co-worker you trust to be honest with you and rate your approachability.

Put a person at ease when they approach you about anything. If you are the boss you have to break down the barrier. Relax, joke with them as long as they are not the butt of the joke and this can quickly reduce the tension.
Give them permission to speak freely. Tell them you want to hear what is on their mind. Ask for honesty. After all, isn’t that what you want from them? Isn’t it better to know what’s on the minds of your employees rather than guessing?

Don’t be defensive if you don’t like what you hear. You are still the boss but you make mistakes just like everyone else. It is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge those mistakes and learn from them. If they point out a mistake you made or an error in judgment, thank them for their input and work together for a solution. Better to learn of your mistakes from an employee than a customer.

Listen intently when employees open up. This is not a time to multitask. Don’t shuffle papers, read emails or rearrange your desk. Listen with your whole body. Look them in the eyes. Ask clarifying questions—“So are you saying…?” This tells the employee that you really are listening and not just acting like you are paying attention.

As a manager or supervisor, it’s up to you to create an environment of open, effective communication between you and your workforce. Take these simple steps to tear down the wall that hinders good dialog.

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