The following notes are taken from an in-service training session provided at my organisation in 2014.
Open Communication is
- thoughtful, respectful and supportive of ideas and opinions,
- where a diverse range of views are expressed and valued,
- between peers, leaders and team members.
While there are many factors in open communication, start by improving your own communication skills and approach.
An organisation’s culture is largely influenced by its leadership, but also by its systems, style of communication and processes.
The Open Communication method
- is a two way exchange, where one party actively listens,
- involves ideas, opinions, information, expertise and honesty,
- involves shared objectives and goals, where work is not done in isolation,
- provides transparency, and prevents secrecy,
- involves the logical discussion of emotions and prevents emotions from becoming a barrier.
The benefits of Open Communication are
- building trust, and achieving better coordination,
- removing false assumptions and improving efficiency,
- reducing the stress and anxiety caused by doubts through lack of information,
- preventing lost opportunities.
We can achieve Open Communication by
- active listening
- achieving transparency
- being solution focussed
- being inclusive
- offering a diversity of channels
- using good body language
- allowing sufficient time
- being open to criticism of your own ideas
- providing clear outcomes
- acknowledging effort and contributions
- discarding personal perceptions
- permitting respect and personal space
- not withdrawing or shutting down
- not creating emotional barriers
- not retreating to silence or shutting down.
Open Communication can only be achieved if we have a clear goal or intention, and where good communication skills are used, and where we are willing to persevere through communication issues.
Try and understand how you operate within the different groups and levels of your organisation. Where do you have the best skills? Make sure that you work to your strengths. Keep doing what works well. Where do you encounter difficulties? Are your colleagues comfortable about approaching you?
Barriers to Open Communication are:
- not being clear,
- following patterns of expectations,
- being judgemental,
- personal attitudes and behaviours,
- differing status level / position in hierarchy,
- not offering opportunity to discuss messages,
- ineffective communications such as vague or ambiguous messages,
- failing to listen,
- personal perceptions.
A line of choice
Our personal conduct or personal responsibility can be viewed as an approach to our behaviour which is determined by our intention rather than by our situation. Our behaviour can be controlled so that it provides our social setting with a stable influence that promotes open communication. This can be viewed as behaviour above a line of choice that we make to promote open communication. When we demonstrate behaviours above the line we are aiming for beneficial communication.
Behaviours that are above the line of choice are for example
- acceptance of others,
- respect for the opinions of others,
- acknowledgement of the opinion of others,
- active listening,
- providing opportunities for others to communicate and contribute,
- behaving with good humour,
- interacting with the group,
- being open minded about the approach taken by others,
- being willing to learn.
Behaviours that are below the line of choice are for example: blaming, denial, justification, defending, withdrawal, disrespectful, emotional responses, stressed.
If we are being aware of our own behaviours, this self-awareness leads to an acknowledgement of our situation. This then empowers us to take ownership of our own situation so that our interests can be met, we can be more open so that we can clarify and re-phrase communication, we can also form a practical resolution in response to a request so that we can re-focus if necessary. For example: When we ask others what is their feedback, we demonstrate a positive behaviour which leads to better self awareness.
Try and recognise our poor communication habits, and ask what situations do we perform badly in? Focus on communication skills, see if we can get feedback from others too.
Think about the situations where there are significant consequences as a result of our involvement. If there is time to have a considered approach, then use that opportunity to consciously plan our approach along these lines:
- What is the goal?
- What communication is required to achieve this goal?
- Planning how the communication will occur.
- What communication style should be used?
- How should the communication be delivered? e.g. be succinct and avoid ambiguity.
A simplified view of four different communication styles. Find out where you are and try to move closer to the middle in order to find a balanced approach away from the extremes.
Open questions helps engage the speaker. Closed questions can help clarify. Paraphrasing helps confirm what the speaker said.
Thinking is supported by listening
Listening is the most valuable skill to help a speaker think. Thinking is best done in the company of others. Supportive encouragement helps thinking. Interruption breaks thinking time. Listen with energy, meaning focus your attention on the speaker without saying anything. Give each person an equal chance to speak, determine a time allowed for each person. When time is short, allow for time later. After the speaker has finished provide genuine acknowledgement of the speaker’s strengths. Limit criticism. Avoid interruption. Use the thinking pairs technique: ask your partner what would they like to think about, and what would they like to say? When they seem to stop, ask them again: what more would you like to say about it?
Talking through a topic actually achieves thinking through the topic, so when you let a person talk without interruption, you let them think.
In a group, one person may pose a problem or a dilemma, then ask that person to define the question, then allow each person to clarify the problem, then allow each person to give suggestions (ideas, experiences, and information). One person must write all of these down. Its up to the original person to synthesise and make what they can from the suggestions in their own time.