While they think they have set the tone for an “interactive” discussion and invite “two-way” conversation, it feels more like a broadcast out…the late-night type, that reaches someone snoozing on the sofa.
The higher you climb, the less likely you are to receive candid reactions and feedback. Or, at least, the smaller the pool of people who feel ratified (or emboldened enough) to do so.
As a leader, what can you do?
You really have to work for it. Here are three strategies to encourage candor and open discussion at work.
- Go back for more. I once asked my mother-in-law, who is very good at picking melons, how she knows which melon is good. Her reply? “If you get a good one, go back to that same place and buy another.” (Yes, I am still in need of a lesson on picking a good melon, but that’s for another day.) However, her advice is perfect for this topic! Reach out to those trusted colleagues who consistently give it to you STRAIGHT. Let them know how much you appreciate and value their insights. “There are not a lot of people on the team who share comments with candor, and I need more of this. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Thank you!”
- Ask for help. If you’re heading into a big team meeting, make an effort before the discussion to line up some comments. Reach out to a few people, at different levels/locations/tenure in the organization, and let them know that you need their help. Ask them to comment or ask questions in the meeting. This is not about telling them what to say, but rather it’s about letting them know that their voice will help others speak up. “I really want to hear your comments and know you will help others speak up by speaking up first.”
- Make it safe. Creating some distance between the people and the subject can make it easier for people to speak up. For example, share some data and then ask for reactions. Case studies, or articles on a topic also work. If you have access to an employee engagement survey, for example, share the charts and then ask the group to speak to what they see—expected to see—or are surprised by. This strategy works because it allows people who may not want to share a personal experience speak with some safe distance. Over time, it allows people to open up. “When you look at this, what do you see?”
How openly and candidly a group speaks is a reflection of the organizational culture. As a leader, you help set the tone by getting the discussion going, and then by how you react to what’s shared. Over time, you will create a culture of feedback and exchange. You’ll not only ensure you are not missing something, but you’ll forge stronger connections across the organization.