Keith Fowler

Encourage Better Communication

Time and time again we hear that organisational performance is suffering because voices are not being heard. Think how you feel when you are unable to express your feelings or share information?

Development initiatives don’t often work if you simply impose them on people. To get an effective Employee Development Programme off the ground you absolutely must ensure that it has the best chance of being taken up and engaged with fully by your team. The best way to do this is to allow employees to have their say in the design and outcomes of the programme.

There are a number of ways to do this organisation-wide, using Engagement Surveys or Psychometric Assessment tools for example. Managers simply having more open, regular conversations with their team about their development is a very effective way too, but is not as common as you might think.

So what holds people back from expressing their feelings or communicating at work, and how can HR teams and leaders act to encourage communication across the workforce?

Here are three of the most common reasons why individuals can’t or don’t express their feelings in the work place, plus a thought or two on how to better encourage people to engage:

Conflict Phobia

Quite simply, people often prefer to bury their heads in the sand than risk an argument. If there are outspoken individuals in the organisation who are particularly confrontational and protective about their point of view, this can prevent others from speaking up – potentially creating a company-wide issue. Over the long term this will result in suppressed negative feelings, good people leaving the organisation, and a frustrated and disengaged workforce.

What to do: Encourage the sharing of small problems before they become big problems. One way to do this is to provide individuals with access to a coach or mentor with whom they can confidentially raise concerns. For those that may at times be a little over zealous, it is important to encourage them to consider the opinions of others, and yet do so in a way which does not stifle their passion.

Emotional Perfectionism

“May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.” 

Mr Spock, Star Trek, season 3, episode 7 (“Day of the Dove,” 1968)

Similar to the fantasy Vulcan race from sci-fi TV show Star Trek, there are still some people who feel that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. They may also believe that people will belittle or reject them if they know how they really feel. The unfortunate result is that often they then don’t share their opinions at all.

What to do: Build a culture of sharing. Never belittle someone’s idea or opinion in a meeting. Provide an environment where people can open up and express their true feelings about important matters. After all, you may discover others are secretly hiding the same opinion!

Fear of Disapproval and Rejection

The connecting theme of the previous two points is the fear of rejection. This is the most common root cause for people not speaking their mind, and we all know that there are countless self-help books written solely to address this topic. The fear of being rejected is a powerful motivator to do nothing. 

So how can HR teams and leaders help employees break through?

Fundamentally, encouraging communication comes down to the quality of leadership and management in your organisation. Use empowering language, ask people to share their opinions and listen to them, then them know that you value their input. Encourage contributions and thank people openly. If you can make your people feel truly valued, and your employee development program tailored to their needs and aspirations, you will have an infinitely greater chance of success.

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